In a Salon piece last week, Mark Benjamin laid out the stakes for what to expect in Baghdad if the lack of clarity persists:
For military experts, who have long questioned the Bush strategy in Iraq, the dual command structure is just the latest in a long chain of avoidable errors. "It just shows you how flawed the whole scheme is," said retired Lt. Gen. William Odom, who was once the Army's senior intelligence officer, in an interview. Odom lamented that Iraq has been "just a bad nightmare" from the start. He said this White House continues to make mistakes that are "so painfully clear that sometimes I think I might be crazy."...
"Any kind of military operation -- but especially counterinsurgency -- only succeeds when there is a high degree of unity of command," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University, who advised the Iraq Study Group. "You want to have very clear, smooth and defined lines of control. If you have dual forms of command, you have, at the start, introduced an undesirable complication. You can only have one chef stirring the pot."
Practically the only sanguine voice in the debate is that of General George Casey, the outgoing Iraq commander and one of the architects of the plan. (Albeit a reluctant one.) During Casey's hearing to become Army chief of staff on Thursday, he tried to quiet Warner's fears -- though he wasn't very successful:
SEN. WARNER: ... I'm just wondering, does this chain of command increase in any way the risk of the American GI participating in these operations?
GEN. CASEY: I don't think so. And as I said, General Odierno was out with his -- visited all the brigade commanders in Baghdad and had the conversation with them, and he reported to me this morning that he is comfortable with this arrangement. Now, is it as good as having everybody lined up working for us? No. There will be more friction than that. But I do not think that it significantly increases the risk to our forces.
Many senators diplomatically pointed out on Thursday that Casey's optimistic projections about conditions in Iraq have rarely come to pass. And as the debate over the surge heats up, this central military issue should become much more high-profile -- though, as the past three and a half years in Iraq shows, that's not to say the problem will actually get solved.