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January 09, 2004

Here's an interesting little tidbit.

From an email I got today. Can't verify it yet. I don't have anything useful to add, really. I also don't know if this is from a published source. If you've seen it elsewhere, let me know so I can handle it appropriately regarding copyright.

The Defense Department floated an interesting idea Jan. 6. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that the Pentagon was considering putting a four-star general in charge of Iraq to facilitate the transition to Iraqi rule and to remain in command of U.S. forces in Iraq after the transition.

To understand the magnitude of this idea, it is necessary to understand the senior command structure of the U.S. military. Each area of the world has a four-star general or admiral in command. In addition, there are several functional commands, like the Transport Command. The Transport Command also has a four-star general in charge, and they used to be called Commanders in Chief or CINCs, until Donald Rumsfeld changed the name to something we can never remember. We still call them CINCs.

Iraq falls under the command of Central Command, and CENTCOM's CINC is Gen. John Abizaid. U.S. ground forces in Iraq are under the command of a three-star general, Ricardo Sanchez, who reports to Abizaid. Under this proposal, Iraq would be carved out of Abizaid's domain. With a four-star in command, Iraq would become in essence its own regional command, effectively ranking with Pacific Command or Southern Command. The Iraq commander would bypass Central Command and report directly to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The logic of this appointment would be that not only ground troops, but also air and whatever sea assets were involved in Iraq would be placed under the new general's command.

This is important because this is very much not the way the U.S. military operates. Iraq is part of CENTCOM'S domain, and pulling it out from under CENTCOM means a new headquarters must be created to support the four-star in Iraq. This is not as trivial as it sounds. A regional command has to have a large staff to manage everything from logistics to intelligence. If the new four-star reported to CENTCOM, then he could access that staff. This reshuffle, however, would explicitly cut Iraq out from under CENTCOM, and one four-star would no longer report to another. So the United States is going to go to a lot of effort -- while short on staff officers -- to create a staff suitable to a very active theater of operations. This is not a trivial undertaking.

The question is why? It is possible the answer is political, but this seems wrong. The Defense Department wants to counter the influence of Paul Bremer -- or the influence of his successor -- and sending a four-star to Baghdad reporting to the Joint Chiefs will do that. Not only is this a lot of effort for some bureaucratic gamesmanship, it is also futile. The White House determines who runs Iraq policy. It is a national security issue of the highest order, so slipping an extra star into the deck isn't going to have much influence. Secretary of State Colin Powell is not likely to buckle at the sight of a four-star general.

The other explanation is that the Defense Department is expecting intensifying conflict within CENTCOM's area of responsibility, so that command responsibilities will outstrip the capacity of Abizaid and his staff. CENTCOM has three potential theaters of operation in its area of responsibility. Apart from Iraq, operations are possible against Syria or in Saudi Arabia, should the House of Saud start to totter. CENTCOM is also responsible for Afghanistan, where fighting continues, and Pakistan, where President Pervez Musharraf's survival -- personal and political -- is unclear. We should add that, in the end, U.S. troops will move into northwestern Pakistan to liquidate the remnants of al Qaeda. Lastly, CENTCOM is responsible for Africa, where seriously intensified operations were planned and postponed over the summer due to the situation in Iraq.

At some point, CENTCOM could be involved, for example, in operations in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, an intervention in Pakistan and an African campaign. This will not happen simultaneously -- if Washington can help it -- but even sequential operations require extensive planning that will outstrip the capacity of any single regional command to manage.

Creating a new CINC in Baghdad (a Middle East Command) -- and just as important, creating a suitable staff -- effectively creates a new area of responsibility. If this is confined solely to the countries contiguous to Iraq -- Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Iran -- then this is a huge area of responsibility. Indeed, all of these don't have to be carved out for the new Middle East Command. There can be a standby command in the wings ready to take up the slack if needed.

It seems to us, however, that what the Defense Department envisions is a command responsible for the Afghan-Pakistani theater of operations -- a

Southwest Asia Command or Indian Ocean Command; another command responsible for operations between east, west and north Iraq; and the Arabian Peninsula being assigned as events dictate. In other words, the Defense Department is putting forward the idea of another regional command because it anticipates the possibility of intensifying combat operations throughout the region. The war in Iraq might be coming under control, but from the standpoint of the Defense Department, the end of the Iraq campaign is the preface to follow-on campaigns.

If the four-star is appointed in the spring, he will be able to pull his staff together by summer. That will allow him the fall for planning, which would mean that operations under his command could begin by late 2004. Put another way, a bit more crassly, Baghdad Command will be good to go right after the November 2004 elections.