Tag Archives | Petraeus

Strategic leaders

Tactically brilliant doesn’t always evolve into brilliant strategic military leadership.

From Abu Muqawama’s brilliant interview with author Greg Jaffe:

Petraeus is a very effective strategic leader. What bugs me is the narrative that he was somehow birthed atop Mount Olympus as the brilliant four star who saved the Army. In reality, his career is a bizarre departure from the norm. He does four tours at the elbow of top generals – Galvin (twice), Vuono and Shelton. He spends relatively little time in the field actually leading soldiers (especially compared to Casey). Petraeus’ career path doesn’t win him a lot of admirers among his peers, who whisper that he’s a palace general or a bit of a suck-up. But it makes Petraeus a much better general and probably a less adept battalion and brigade commander. This is a guy who starts preparing for a strategic leadership role as a captain. I don’t think Casey was as effective. But it is a huge mistake to write him off as not bright, intransigent, lazy or stuck in the Cold War as many in the COIN crowd tend to do. He is a smart person. He works incredibly hard. He was a great soldier and quite possibly a better battalion and brigade commander than Petraeus. So David and I tried really hard to understand why Casey makes the decisions that he makes. He is a product of these experiences that he has growing up in the Army.[AM]

Greg makes a very interesting point here. This blogger has always held a strong belief that tactically brilliant commanders may not eventually progress to be equally brilliant strategic leaders. While the defence services — not only in India but the world over — promote a tactically brilliant guy hoping that he’d deliver strategically as well, at times not-so-brilliant tactical commanders surprise people with their performance as strategic leaders.

In the Indian context, many would care to remember that Sam Manekshaw never commanded a battalion and his rise up till the rank of a Brigadier was a real struggle. And he remains independent India’s most successful, if not arguably the most brilliant, strategic military commander.

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Petraeus is the lynchpin

…of US strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Obama Kashmir Thesis continues to ruffle feathers in India. It has now drawn a sharp rebuke from another renowned Indian commentator, K Subrahmanyam. He warns Obama to Lay off Kashmir, as the Obama theory allows Pakistan to get away with mischief on both the fronts — Afghanistan and Kashmir.

While his premise is based on fears of return of traditional Democratic party ex-diplomats, ex-militarymen and ex-intelligence officials in the Obama administration, K Subrahmanyam ignores the influence likely to be wielded by Vice President-elect Joseph Biden in framing the foreign policy of the new administration. The veteran Indian commentator also alludes to the role of newly appointed head of US Central Command, Lieutenant General Dave Petraeus in influencing the US policy in the region. Petraeus is a highly celebrated General and his successful record in Iraq makes him a pivotal player in the new ballgame.

It is instructive to look at Petraeus’ views after he was designated to take over the US Central Command. First and foremost is his take on India’s role in Afghanistan. It seems from his early pronouncements that he sees a valid role for India in stabilising Afghanistan.

“When you look at a lot of these problems, you see considerable regional connections,” Petraeus said yesterday. The effort would embrace all of Afghanistan’s neighbors and possibly extend to India, which has had a long-standing rivalry with Pakistan. “There may be opportunities with respect to India,” he said.[WaPo]

Any solution for Afghanistan has to involve, besides India, Iran and Russia. Both these countries are not on friendly terms with Washington. So, how would Dave Petraeus look at them?

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For internal consumption only

Zardari’s warnings to Petraeus are aimed only at his domestic audience.

First, the “democratically elected” Pakistani government took offence to the cross-border raid by US ground forces inside Pakistani territory. There have been no further reports of cross-border raids by the US ground forces since. That may have been done partially to cater to Pakistani sensitivities, but certainly the main reason was because the US military might be finding such operations riskier and of limited tactical benefits vis-a-vis aerial strikes by unmanned drones.

Then, on October 29, the Pakistani government summoned the US Ambassador to Islamabad, Anne W. Patterson  to demand a halt to air strikes on its soil by American forces, saying the operations weaken the ability of the government to fight terrorism. A missile from a US drone killed 27 people in Kari Kot in Pakistan’s South Waziristan district on October 31, signifying that such démarche did little to alter US military strategy in the border areas of Pakistan.

President Zardari has repeated these warnings to General Petraeus during his maiden visit to Islamabad as the head of the US Central Command.

“The focus should be more on enhanced coordination and intelligence-sharing,” Zardari told the U.S. officials today when they met at his residence during a visit to Pakistan, according to a Pakistani government statement. The cross-border raids from Afghanistan have killed Pakistanis and destroyed property, “creating a credibility gap” as members of the public pressure their leaders to explain the U.S. actions, Zardari said.

And Petraeus’ reply was nothing more than a polite acknowledgement.

“In fact, we got certain messages with each of those we talked today and some of those were very clear and we have to take those on-board,” Petraeus said Monday, adding later, “The tone of the conversation was very frank and very forthright, as it should be.”

President Zardari and his government have little  control over the actions initiated by the US forces in Pakistani territories bordering Afghanistan. The Pakistani state and its military are so dependent on US dole that any belligerence by the Pakistani security forces inviting the US wrath is likely to bring the Pakistani nation at the brink of an existential disaster.

Unlike Musharraf, Zardari is the head of a political party that runs the federal government in Pakistan. He has to per force make the right noises to address the concerns of his domestic constituency. However rather than pacifying the anti-US sentiments in the country, such publicly reported warnings by Zardari only tend to strengthen the public portrayal of the US as a satanic state that cares little for Pakistan and its elected government.

So will the drone attacks inside Pakistan by US military stop now? They may stop, but that will have nothing to do with Zardari’s warning to Petraeus and Boucher. It will only result due to a dramatic, but unlikely, shift in the US military strategy for tackling insurgency in the region. President Zardari would be hoping against hope that Dave Petraeus is the catalyst for that change in the US strategy.

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