The Best Defense

Best Defense exclusive: Petraeus to be succeeded by Marine Gen. John Allen

I am hearing around town that Gen. David Petraeus will indeed step down in Afghanistan later this year, and probably will be replaced by Marine Lt. Gen. John Allen.

That's a terrific plan. I also am hearing that Petraeus, who is scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill next week, is worn out. It would be nice to give him a breather before making him chairman of the Joint Chiefs, or, smarter move, making him national security advisor, if President Obama decides he wants a real one, instead of the Hill staffers and ex-lobbyists for Fannie Mae the White House has been trotting out. (The current lineup is just Bidenism at its worst, confusing Congress with the real world. And, while I'm at it, I'm still an Obama fan, but he seriously needs to get better at talking to and listening to his military leaders, and these guys aren't helping.)

Anyway, dispatching General Allen to Kabul would be a step in the right direction. He's an unusual officer. I wrote about him in The Gamble, in a section titled "The General Who Loved Gertrude Bell," the British archeologist and writer who was what Lawrence of Arabia tried to be. (Pp. 219-223) Allen once told me that if he hadn't been a Marine he would have liked to have been an archeologist. (What is that verb tense-"if he hadn't . . . he would have liked to have been"-past conditional subjunctive? Reminds me of the Polish phrase, "Gdybym mia? pieni?dze, to kupi?bym go." And don't we all?)

Allen was the deputy commander of the Marines in Iraq in 2007, as the Anbar Awakening took hold and changed the politics of Iraq. He played a big role in that by meeting with insurgents and other Sunni leaders, often in Jordan and the Gulf states.

Generals Petraeus and Mattis are both big fans of Allen. As I understand it, when Petraeus was given the Centcom command, he asked for Allen to be his deputy. As a captain, Allen won the Marines' Leftwich Trophy, awarded to the best company commander in the Corps each year. According to his Centcom bio, he also scored an couple of unusual firsts-first Marine officer to join the Council on Foreign Relations as a term member, first Marine officer to serve as commandant of midshipmen at Annapolis

UPDATE: A reader points out that NPR also reported this morning that Gen. Allen likely will replace Gen. Petraeus.

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The Best Defense

French recognition of the Libyan rebels likely means NATO goes in, so here are the eight steps it should take

France's recognition today of the rebels as the legitimate government of Libya opens the door for NATO intervening in the civil war, I think.

That's not a bad thing. As I said the other day, there comes a point when action is necessary. I was worried that we would not move until there was a mass slaughter-and that might come too late.

But that emphatically does not mean that NATO should instantly move to a no-fly zone. Rather, there are a series of steps short of that to consider first. The point of departure should be that there are millions of Libyans willing to fight for their freedom. Let's first try to figure out how to help them. Here are the eight steps to take, in order:

--Supply anti-tank weapons, as soon as possible. Rocket-propelled grenades are not that hard to fire, once you know not to fire them from inside a room. They also can take down helicopters.

--Indeed, the biggest air threat presented by Qaddafi's forces comes not from fighter aircraft but from helicopters, which are harder to deal with in a no-fly zone, because they can take off and land anywhere. But giving the rebels a few RPGs, plus some .50 caliber machine guns, or their East Bloc equivalent, can be a powerful deterrent.

--Provide targetting and troop movement information, especially from signals intercepts.

--Get food into rebel-held areas.

I would hope that those four steps already are being taken. The French intelligence services actually have a very good reputation for being operationally effective, so I would expect that at least some of this stuff is going on. If not, time for President Obama to get on the phone.

In addition, we should ready the next four steps:

--Announce harsh penalties for any foreign mercenaries caught fighting for Qaddafi, but offer amnesty for anyone who stops fighting now and leaves the country.

--Take very public steps for a no-fly zone, like flying half a wing each into the U.S. base in Sigonella, Sicily (which would handle the western end of Libya) and the U.S. base at Souda Bay, Crete (from which the eastern end of the country would be patrolled).

--Prepare to announce a no-fly zone, but only do it if we are sure we can do it and sustain it for several weeks or even months. 

--As I've said before, if we decide to actually put in people on the ground, like for a snatch-and-grab of Qaddafi, we then would want to do a no-fly zone simultaneously, just to make it more difficult for Qaddafi to move around and to pour sand into the gears of his command-and-control system.

As it happens, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Brussels today so he likely will have some interesting conversations on all this.

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