I spent three hours today listening to part of the confirmation hearings on the appointment of General George Casey before the Senate Armed Forces Committee. I was a little surprised on how the questions focused so much on the planned reinforcement of the American troops in Iraq as a policy, as opposed to the situation in Iraq in relation to the wider role of the U.S. Army.
The only senators to address this issue in detail while I listened were Hilary Clinton (which surprised me) and Jim Inhofe. They did not quite have the same angle on this problem, but their comments stood out in thinking about Casey's future wider responsibilities, as opposed to his past narrower ones. Evan Bayh brought up the question of how willing Casey would be to challenge his civilian bosses if he thought they were wrong. Casey's answer did not suggest that he would see such a matter as a cause of resignation, but rather that he would return again and again to seek to adjust policy to suit his point of view.
I came away with two key thoughts about how the U.S. military sees Iraq over the coming year. Casey emphasized time and again that the capability of the Iraqis to take the lead in bringing order to the troubled parts of the country was crucial to the success of the American mission. This is Vietnamization all over again, although I suspect the prospects for success are better in Iraq than they were in Vietnam. The other key thought is that the Iraqi army is very much a mixed bag. An exchange with Bill Nelson brought out a figure of about 24,000 Iraqi troops being actually reliable, fully equipped and deployed in a significant war zone, in Baghdad. This is out of an army of 325,000.