General Petraeus vs. the US Military

David Petraeus and Paul Bremer, Falluja, 2003

In sharp contrast to the lionisation of Gen. David Petraeus by members of the U.S. Congress during his testimony this week, Petraeus's superior, Admiral William Fallon, chief of the Central Command (CENTCOM), derided Petraeus as a sycophant during their first meeting in Baghdad last March, according to Pentagon sources familiar with reports of the meeting.

Fallon told Petraeus that he considered him to be "an ass-kissing little chickenshit" and added, "I hate people like that", the sources say. That remark reportedly came after Petraeus began the meeting by making remarks that Fallon interpreted as trying to ingratiate himself with a superior.

That extraordinarily contentious start of Fallon's mission to Baghdad led to more meetings marked by acute tension between the two commanders. Fallon went on develop his own alternative to Petraeus's recommendation for continued high levels of U.S. troops in Iraq during the summer.

The enmity between the two commanders became public knowledge when the Washington Post reported Sep. 9 on intense conflict within the administration over Iraq. The story quoted a senior official as saying that referring to "bad relations" between them is "the understatement of the century". . . .

The conflict between Fallon and Petraeus over Iraq came to a head in early September. According to the Post story, Fallon expressed views on Iraq that were sharply at odds with those of Petraeus in a three-way conversation with Bush on Iraq the previous weekend. Petraeus argued for keeping as many troops in Iraq for as long as possible to cement any security progress, but Fallon argued that a strategic withdrawal from Iraq was necessary to have sufficient forces to deal with other potential threats in the region.

Fallon's presentation to Bush of the case against Petraeus's recommendation for keeping troop levels in Iraq at the highest possible level just before Petraeus was to go public with his recommendations was another sign that Petraeus's role as chief spokesperson for the surge policy has created a deep rift between him and the nation's highest military leaders. Bush presumably would not have chosen to invite an opponent of the surge policy to make such a presentation without lobbying by the top brass.

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