The Best Defense

Gates lays out criteria for Libya action

One thing I learned as a reporter was that effective defense officials chose their words extremely carefully, especially when they emerged from meetings with allies over the use of force. So take a moment to read this comment, made by Defense Secretary Gates after a NATO meeting in Brussels today: "NATO will only act if there is demonstrable need, a sound legal basis, and strong regional support."  

In case anyone missed the point, old Gates underscored it a couple of minutes later. "We are very mindful of opinion in the region, and that's one of the reasons that one of the three central criteria with respect to any action requires strong regional support.  I think that a number of ministers made clear that we were -- we wanted to put ourselves in a position to assist the Arab League, the African Union or the U.N. in this endeavor, and very sensitive to NATO being responsive to those organizations rather than taking an initiative on its own."

I would say the American position is that it will support NATO action if one of those three entities agrees to take the lead. I suspect that the American position may "stiffen," as Churchill would say, if Qaddafi's forces start slaughtering people. That would be a change in the "demonsrable need" meter. Sound legal basis is easy to handle. So that leaves the regional support for action as the major variable.

This does remind me a lot of Bosnia '94. Makes me miss Holbrooke.

For those who want to do their own parsing of the SecDef, here's the whole transcript.

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

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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