The White House wasn’t about to brook any criticism of its conduct of the war from the Republicans when they ran Congress — as unlikely as that cocky, overconfident group of legislators was to offer any — and it’s not going to invite any from the Democrats now that they’re in charge.
And congressional criticism — and not all from Democrats — is what the Bush administration would have gotten had it gone ahead as planned with nominating Marine Gen. Peter Pace to a second term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said he had decided against it because the Senate confirmation process would have been too contentious and divisive, that senators would have rehashed the last four years of the Iraq war in an attempt to find out what went wrong.
And Democrats, including Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, confirmed that the hearing would have been backward looking. In other words, Pace, on behalf of the administration, would have been forced to defend the conduct of the war to date.
Pace, who served four years as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs and two years as chairman, has been there since the beginning. By contrast, the bio of Gates’ nominee to replace him, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Mullen, suggests that he was not directly involved in planning for the Iraq war.
When before the start of the Iraq war then-Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki said it would take “several hundred thousand” troops to stabilize postwar Iraq, he was publicly rebuked and disavowed by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top deputy, Paul Wolfowitz. Rumsfeld was forced out last fall and Wolfowitz, who had departed earlier, left the World Bank under a cloud this spring. Thus, there has been almost a compete turnover in the civilian and military leadership that was there at the outset of the war.
Rather than live with a Rumsfeld holdover, perhaps Gates wanted his own person as the nation’s top military adviser, and that’s understandable. But after four years of the White House insisting the war was going great if only the press reported it that way, this sudden scramble for a military miracle worker — first Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, then a war czar and now Mullen — hardly inspires confidence.