- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2008

President Bush delivered a back-channel message of personal support to Gen. David Petraeus when the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq felt undermined late in 2007 by a lack of support from the Pentagon, State Department and his own military superiors, a new book says.

Gen. Petraeus believed any further troop reductions in Iraq should be contingent on reductions in violence. But he was under intense pressure from those above him to reduce the U.S. troop presence as soon as possible, according to “The War Within: A Secret White House History,” by Bob Woodward.

President Bush supported Gen. Petraeus, but did it through a back channel, without telling almost anyone.

Mr. Bush went outside the chain of command and delivered a message of support to Gen. Petraeus through a retired Army officer, Gen. Jack Keane.

“I waited over three years for a successful strategy. And I’m not giving up on it prematurely,” Mr. Bush said, in a message relayed by Gen. Keane to Gen. Petraeus, just after Gen. Petraeus’ two days of testimony on Sept. 11 and 12, 2007.

“I want Dave to know that I want him to win He will have as much force as he needs for as long as he needs it.”

Gen. Petraeus, after hearing this from Gen. Keane, said, “I wish he’d tell [Central Command] and the Pentagon that.”

The book opens a window onto the remarkable role played by Gen. Keane, who has been a key behind- the-scenes liason between Gen. Petraeus and the White House, according to Mr. Woodward’s book.

Gen. Keane was a public proponent of the surge in late 2006, but around that time also began to meet with top administration officials. He eventually held a series of private meetings with Mr. Cheney, a few of which included the president.

At an Aug. 18 meeting with Mr. Cheney at the vice president’s residence in Northwest Washington, Gen. Keane said that Gen. Petraeus had “an unsupportive chain of command for the first time in his career, when he has the most critical job he’s ever had and ever will have.”

“The impact of that is stunning for him,” Gen. Keane told Mr. Cheney.

Gen. Keane said that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was not doing enough with his “enormous credibility” to build support among lawmakers on Capitol Hill for Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who also testified with Gen. Petraeus.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Keane said, were “more concerned about breaking the Army and Marine Corps than winning the war,” and Admiral William Fallon, who was head of Central Command, had “bought into all the political concerns in Washington.”

Adm. Fallon said he recommended to Mr. Gates that Gen. Petraeus be replaced that fall, because of the strain on him after three tours over five years in Iraq, though Mr. Gates disputed that story, the book says.

Adm. Fallon thought Gen. Petraeus might suffer the same fate as former military commanders, such as Adm. John S. McCain, the grandfather of current presidential nominee John McCain. Adm. McCain weighed 100 pounds at the end of World War II and died of a heart attack days after returning home.

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