John Abizaid to Retire Early

CENTCOM Commander John Abizaid is retiring early, clearing the path for new SECDEF Robert Gates to appoint a replacement.

Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, has submitted plans to retire and will leave his post in March, a step likely to make way for a change in military strategy at a time the Bush administration is seeking a new plan for Iraq.

Abizaid has been the primary architect of U.S. military strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan since becoming head of the U.S. Central Command more than three years ago. He has strenuously resisted calls to increase troop levels to quell rising violence in Baghdad, arguing it would increase Iraqi dependence on Americans. But a growing number of current and former officers have embraced the idea, some of whom have briefed President Bush as part of his monthlong review of Iraq policy, and the White House is believed to be considering the move. “If you’re going to change the strategy, in fairness to [Abizaid], let him go,” said a former senior Pentagon official who has worked closely with the general. “He’s given it all he’s got, in terms of personal sacrifice.”

Abizaid’s planned departure clears the way for new Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to recommend his own commander, a decision current and former Defense officials say is nearly as important as the new administration strategy expected to be unveiled by Bush in January. These officials said Gates faces a clear choice between generals who have agreed with Abizaid’s push to quickly hand over security responsibilities to Iraqi forces and a small but increasingly influential coterie of officers backing a more aggressive U.S.-led counterinsurgency campaign.

According to Defense officials, Abizaid submitted his retirement documents just over a month ago, shortly before Donald H. Rumsfeld was pushed out as Defense secretary. One recently retired Army general said Abizaid had wanted to retire earlier but that Rumsfeld blocked the move, insisting his war commanders stay in place.

It’s difficult to conceive of a commanding general for Middle East operations that would be better suited than Abizaid, who seemed to have the ideal resume for the job. He had years of experience in the theater, impressive academic credentials with a regional focus, is of Arab descent, and speaks the language fluently. Aside from simply “giving someone else a shot” and the fact that he has to be exhausted after three years in the job–and time in the theater as Tommy Franks’ deputy before that–it’s unlikely his successor will be an improvement.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Military Affairs, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. legion says:

    Wow. That caught me by surprise. I wonder if there’s someone waiting in the wings, or if the new SecDef will have to sort through all the eligibles himself now.

  2. madmatt says:

    This is not a war that can be won by an army…it is like hitting jello with a hammer…the harder you hit the more you spread it…and an occupation based on corruption, incompetence and devastation has worked how many times since the middle ages?

  3. I think one of the important questions has to be what are Gen. Abizaid’s plans for retirement. With his qualifications, he could write his own ticket back in Washington.

  4. DC Loser says:

    I’ve heard rumors he was to take over the DNI job from Negroponte. But then Negroponte just recently said he will stay on until 2008.

  5. Anthony C says:

    I’m not sure about your analysis. I know quite a few people in the service who feel that Abizaid’s actual performance hasn’t lived up to the promise that his undoubtedly impressive CV might imply.

  6. madmatt says:

    “He had years of experience in the theater, impressive academic credentials with a regional focus, is of Arab descent, and speaks the language fluently”

    What do you bet the next candidate has a masters in brown-nosing, no experience in the region, no knowledge of the religions or languages…any takers?

  7. LJD says:

    …an occupation based on corruption, incompetence and devastation…
    What do you bet the next candidate has a masters in brown-nosing, no experience in the region, no knowledge of the religions or languages…

    But you support the troops, right?

  8. As side says:

    He is A BIZ AID.

  9. BTW, I’ve linked to you here.