A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I'm Late, But Here are Some Comments on the "Petraeus Memo" Story

Since I didn't post over the weekend (I was busy with getting my daughter's new laptop up and running with all necessary software), I didn't comment, as most Middle East bloggers did eventually, on Mark Perry's story about CENTCOM's General Petraeus and JCS' Admiral Mullen's reported comments on the relationship between Israeli-Palestinian issues and CENTCOM's area of responsibility. If you haven't yet read it or any of the many commentaries based on it, click the link first before coming back here for my take.

Among the issues is the concern that not only Israel but also Palestine are outside CENTCOM's AOR and are considered part of the European Command's AOR, and general Petraeus is portrayed as asking that Palestine (but not necessarily Israel) be included under CENTCOM. (I'm not sure if it's still the case but it also used to be true that Time and Newsweek distributed their European edition, not their Middle East edition, in Israel; I think so an "Israel" price wouldn't appear on the cover of issues sold in the Arab world.)

If you read the two updates to Perry's post, you'll note that a) the Pentagon denied that Petraeus had sent a memo to the White House, but b) there's a clarification that Petraeus sent the memo to Mullen. (For those who aren't wonkish on this stuff: Petraeus is commander of the US Central Command, covering the Middle East except Israel; Mullen is his boss, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.) In other words, the denial is of the specific detail, not the overall story.

The real story here, I think, is that CENTCOM has always been treated as a Gulf Security and Southwest Asia force even though ,North Africa and other Arab lands from Egypt eastward were in its AOR. Petraeus, who seems willing to note it publicly when the Emperor is underdressed, has actually noted that thing so often denied by Washington policy types: linkage. What happens in Gaza does affect our men and women serving in Afghanistan or Iraq, and thus at least the Arab part of the equation (the Palestinian Authority) is very relevant to CENTCOM.

It won't happen, unless I'm missing a bigger sea change than seems likely, despite the Biden snub. But the fact that Petraeus and Mullen may be arguing for it is very interesting. It suggests that Petraeus is not just one of our smartest CENTCOM commanders (I don't know if any of his predecessors had an earned Ph.D. as he does), but one of our shrewdest and, it would appear, boldest. He's saying something his predecessors have thought and haven't said. Of course, he's venturing into what the Supreme Court once called "the political thicket," which can be dangerous ground for men in uniform. Ask Douglas MacArthur. Or George McClellan.

All assuming, of course, that Perry got his facts right. Some related thoughts by Andrew Exum here.

1 comment:

David Mack said...

Your general points are correct, Michael, and as Perry says the US military can be a lot more powerful lobby than AIPAC. The issue of linkage between the Israel/Arab issue and regional security has always lurked below the surface. At least, there has been strong linkage ever since June 1967 when the Israeli occupation of Muslim holy sites in East Jerusalem and Hebron and the long term effects of occupation of the West Bank and Gaza began to transform what had been a struggle of secular Zionist nationalism against secular Arab nationalism into a much more emotional struggle based on religious ideology. Petreus has obviously been impressed by the depth of feeling on this in non-Arab parts of his area of operations, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan. One small quibble about the CENTCOM AOR. It includes Egypt, Sudan and the horn of Africa. It does not include the states from Libya eastward.