Thursday, August 07, 2008

General Petraeus -- The Man "In The Arena"

(Update, o8/08, below:)
Ever the educator, Col. Austin Bay, Army Reserve (Ret.), a PhD (English & Comp. Lit.) from Columbia, and a graduate of the U.S. Army War College, has just launched a half hour web-based telephone interview presentation with the newly-confirmed head of CENTCOM, General David Petraeus, PhD, who has, since January, 2007, commanded the Multi-National Forces in Iraq, and overseen the implementation of the surge.

The Arena Channel:

Entitled, "A Conversation With General Petraeus," the interview presentation can be found on Bay's relatively new and ambitious website, The Arena Academy, or the Arena Channel. The interview turned out to be a thorough and in-depth look at a variety of issues related to our ongoing mission in Iraq, set in the context of the war on terror. You will need to register for entry into the Arena Channel site, but that is a significant benefit, as you receive timely e-mail notices of breaking and up-coming postings.

Austin Bay views this new and ambitious project as,
"an example of the Internet’s real contribution to serious discussion – space for the expert to elaborate, for concepts to evolve, for significant facts to receive due emphasis, for the experts and the audience to explore."
It certainly does not disappoint. More on the Arena website, below.*

The Petraeus Interview:

The interview, I think, speaks for itself, and really should be heard in its entirety. The West Point and Princeton-educated General broadly addresses what has been happening in Iraq, what we can hope for in the future, and what additional needs remain to be addressed.

In describing the current period of strategic change in Iraq, Petraeus pointedly emphasizes that those changes have not been, nor are they now "light switch" moments. He says they are what he would rather describe as a whole series of "rheostat" moments throughout the provinces and local areas, gradually giving rise to an emerging and improved overall security situation. In other words, he emphasizes that progress in Iraq has consisted of incremental progress, the difficulty at times even resembling a "Sisyphean endeavor."

Petraeus discusses the important role of interagency coordination and cooperation (diplomatic and military) throughout the surge, and the remarkable string of successes both he and our coalition troops, and the Iraqi Defense Ministry, including their security forces, military and civilian, have achieved over the course of that effort. He also specifically notes the importance of the appointment of Lt. Gen. Lute as the "point man" on Iraq and Afghanistan, within the White House.

Petraeus identifies areas where there are additional needs, including continuing the emphasis on improving the "entire arena" of the role of the rule of law to further reduce AQI, and other groups resort to mafia-style gang violence.

He sets it in the overall context of the Iraqi security force growth, their increasing ability to operate independently of MNF command, and their improving professionalism. Responding to another Austin Bay question about historical context, he also addressed the overall makeup of the Iraqi military on the ground at the beginning of the operation, and talks a bit about the pros and cons of disbanding that military at the time. He also opines on the flexibility and benefits of the CERP, or Commander's Emergency Response Program, which allows a commander to quickly fund small, non-military humanitarian projects, to help maintain stability within a region.

Petraeus also speaks cautiously but candidly, for example, about where we are headed, even including expectations regarding current verbal commitments being made by Moqtada-al-Satr to "return" his Mahdi army into a "human resources" or social-services network, a commitment al-Satr has made and broken in the past.

Noting that the General is about to assume the position of CENTCOM Commander, which will put Afghanistan within his bailiwick, Austin Bay asked Petraeus if he "had any thoughts about the campaign in Afghanistan right now?" Petraeus cautiously demurred: "Austin, I do, but I think it would be premature to offer them candidly."

Recently, Petraeus did offer a hint about his possible views in a recent AP interview story run in the Boston Globe, and written by AP military writer, Robert Burns, to the effect that al-Qaeda may be shifting some of their emphasis from Iraq to Pakistan and possibly Afghanistan, having seen the string of substantial defeats in Iraq:

"We do think that there is some assessment ongoing as to the continued viability of al-Qaida's fight in Iraq," Gen. David Petraeus told The Associated Press in an interview at his office at the U.S. Embassy.

Whatever the result, Petraeus said no one should expect al-Qaida to give up entirely in Iraq.

"They're not going to abandon Iraq. They're not going to write it off. None of that," he said. "But what they certainly may do is start to provide some of those resources that would have come to Iraq to Pakistan, possibly Afghanistan."

He said there are signs that foreign fighters recruited by al-Qaida to do battle in Iraq are being diverted to the largely ungoverned areas in Pakistan from which the fighters can cross into Afghanistan. U.S. officials have pressed Pakistan for more than a year to halt the cross-border infiltration. It remains a major worry not only for the war in Afghanistan but also for Pakistan's stability.

However, he also said he was cautious about the reliability of the intelligence. But it could indicate that al-Qaeda is having to reassess their long-held desire to establish Iraq as a militant Islamic state.

That goal, of course, would have required driving the United States out by political means, through a forced withdrawal, a reactive position long favored by many Democrats in Congress, including Senator Barack Obama. But the notable success of the surge over the past year has, at least temporarily, forestalled that pressure.

Finally, asked by Austin Bay to address a topic of his own choosing, the General immediately took the opportunity to credit the extraordinary contribution of the young men and women of the American military who have served there, under extremely difficult conditions.

He said of our young soldiers that they had performed magnificently, especially in conducting counterinsurgency warfare, requiring them to perform "offensive, defensive and civilian support operations, sometimes all in the same hour," and adding at the end of the interview that they have been called "'the new greatest generation,' and I absolutely buy into that."

Update: Early today, 08/08, Powerline posted more on the importance of this interview, together with a link to a transcript and audio located at Pajamas Media, located here.

* More on the Arena Website:

Bay's web presentation format itself proves to be quite user-friendly, consisting (with this interview) of a five-frame page, with three on the left side, starting at the top with a controller frame from which you stop or start the presentation. That window contains four summary choices to chose from, -- Summary, Credits, Chapters, or Resources. I kept it on the Chapter frame, a general bulleted outline that tells you at a glance where you are in the interview and presentation.

The third window, located beneath that is a feedback survey frame with a few queries that are posted during the course of the presentation, i.e., asking whether you supported or opposed the surge, or, toward the end of the interview, whether you found the presentation useful. It gives you instant summary feedback on the percentages and number of respondents.

The fourth and largest frame, really the focal point of the presentation, is located on the top right corner of the screen. It complements the audio with simultaneous "running" summary slides, in this case with Petraeus' responses, the text of each generously laced with links to a separate and considerable body of additional background information, accessable in separate windows.

In other words, during the interview, and while Petraeus is responding to a question about our coordination with the growing Iraqi army's responses to AQI, you see in that the upper right-hand quintrant of your screen, a slide containing a bulleted summary of Petraeus's response.

So, when he refers, for example, to the special groups, you could, if you wish, click on the embedded link for special groups and read background information about them, while listening to hs answer -- or, you could pause the interview, read the separate window, and then return right to where you left off in the interview, as you wish.

In the introduction portion of the interview, you can also follow any of the many links to read General Petraeus' bio, or link to descriptions of West Point, or to information about units he has commanded, or other related material. So you could click on and open a separate window and read and view public domain information about Multi-National Security Transition Command Iraq, or MNSTCI, as he succinctly describes its development and role.

And the final frame at the bottom right is set up to be either an automatic "feedback" e-mail window, a notepad, or comment thread, allowing participants to forward the link to friends or share comments with Austin Bay.

This website is, therefore, an extraordinarily informative and interactive tool for anyone seeking solid information on our ongoing role in Iraq. Prior to viewing the interview, I clicked on and viewed the entire Academy presentation on the consequences of a premature withdrawal, "A Rapid U.S. Military Withdrawal from Iraq," updated to, "CONSEQUENCES IRAQ UPDATE: Strategic Overwatch." It is hard to imagine anyone writing informatively about Iraq today without at least perusing the ample material available at Austin Bay's new website.

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