- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Gen. David H. Petraeus is certainly no Clark Kent, the “mild mannered and meek” character of yesteryear’s comic books. But is the general Superman? Because, to turn the chaos in Iraq into a semblance of order, it will take someone possessing superpowers.

Gen. Petraeus has inherited, or has been dealt, a very weak hand. President Bush upped the ante with a no-limit pot, betting everything on his new Iraqi strategy. The responsibility for playing that hand has been placed by the president squarely and almost entirely on the wiry shoulders of the former commander of the famous 101st Airborne Division. To drive this point home, who is Gen. Petraeus’ American civilian equivalent in Iraq? The answer is there is none.

Consider several of the weakest cards in the general’s hand. First, military force cannot overcome or resolve the political, economic, social, ethnic, tribal and sectarian points of conflict alone. However, Gen. Petraeus lacks the authority to deal with these issues on which success or failure will ultimately depend. For example, Gen. Petraeus cannot order the State, Treasury, Commerce and other departments to man the Provincial Reconstruction Teams vital to rebuilding Iraq.

Second, the so-called surge that has made Baghdad the strategic center of gravity is no secret. Insurgents, militias and other enemies fully understand this plan and will respond, to use the current jargon, asymmetrically. That is a further reason why the brouhaha over improvised explosive devices and other weapons presumably supplied by Iran made such a splash last week. In the wrong hands and in sufficient numbers, these weapons can play havoc with the new strategy and the soldiers and marines who are carrying it out. Gen. Petraeus fully understands and must deal with this potential threat.

Third, the Iraqi government is at best dysfunctional and at worst non-existent. Without even a semi-functioning Ministry of Defense and Interior, Iraq’s security forces cannot be self-sustaining and effective for even the short term. These deficiencies must be fixed and fixed soon.

Finally, Gen. Petraeus must cope with a political mood at home that lacks patience. There can be no tunnel or even a “light at the end of the tunnel.” Results are needed and needed now, but it is unrealistic and even foolish to believe that the new strategy can work instantly or even over a few months.

The thrust of the broader challenges Petraeus faces beyond his military tasks is captured in this vignette. Electricity is essential to success. The lights in Baghdad must be turned and kept on. One reason why that is not happening will make you cry.

Anticipating an electrical drought, over three years ago, the United States wisely ordered some two-dozen electrical generators from a Finnish company. The generators arrived at Aqaba, Jordan, where they sat awaiting construction of the facilities in Iraq. Being responsible contractors, the Finns performed preventative maintenance on the generators, keeping them operable in the extreme heat and climate. When the Iraqi facilities were finally ready, the Finns presented a maintenance bill to the United States for $20 million. But, when the contract was negotiated, no one anticipated this lengthy storage. It was not in the contract. The United States refused to pay. So the Finns sued and the generators sit in Aqaba.

That and thousands of other obstacles confront Gen. Petraeus, including armies of U.S. rules and regulations and battalions of auditors and lawyers telling the good general what he can or cannot do, such as not being able to write a check for a paltry $20 million to get the lights back on. He must help overcome them as well as defeat the insurgents, militias and foreign fighters.

So how does the general play this hand? The answer is simple: He must cheat. Whether through guile and stealth or audacity and bombast, Gen. Petraeus must assume authority well beyond his charter as military commander in Iraq. In this quest, he has two principal allies.

One is Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. The future of Iraq rests on Iraqis, and Mr. Maliki must make that happen. Gen. Petraeus must form a bond and relationship with Mr. Maliki not dissimilar to the one forged between Churchill and Eisenhower during World War II. But Gen. Petraeus does not have the time Ike did.

The other ally is Adm. William Fallon, the incoming commander of Central Command. Adm. Fallon, a naval aviator whose handle is “Fox,” must fly high political cover for Gen. Petraeus both in the region and to ward off the many slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that will be launched from Washington and elsewhere. In that regard, the Eisenhower-Bradley team, also of World War II, is a good model. Again, time is an enemy.

Let us hope then that under his battle dress, Gen. Petraeus wears a second uniform light blue in color with a huge “S” emblazoned on the chest.

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