Pete the Parrot Departs
Good riddance to the last of the Rumsfeld generals.
As for "where we need to be," Pace said, "I just want everyone to understand that this dialogue is not about 'Can we vote our way out of a war?' We have an enemy who declared war on us. We are in a war. They want to stop us from living the way we want to live our lives."
There it was—pure Rumsfeld, which is to say pure Bush, though a bit less eloquent. All criticism of the war is motivated by partisan venom; the war in Iraq is the global war on terror; Sept. 11, Bin Laden, the insurgents in Iraq—they're all fundamentally the same.
There, by the way, was also pure Pace. Woodward writes in State of Denial that when he asked the general if he had any doubts about the war in Iraq, Pace replied, "I have no doubts at all. None. Zero. … We did not do this. When we were sitting home minding our own business, we got attacked on 9/11."
Pace's successor, Adm. Michael Mullen, seems more capable of drawing distinctions. At Pace's farewell ceremony, the admiral said: "The fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan will one day end. We must be ready for who and what comes next." The same day, before the Senate armed services committee, he expressed concerns about the war in Iraq. "I worry," he said, "about the toll this pace of operations is taking on [our troops], our equipment, and on our ability to respond to other crises and contingencies."
Adm. Mullen was the officer who testified, at his confirmation hearing back in August, that the "surge" would have to end in mid-2008 because the surge troops' tours of duty would expire, and we simply had no more to replace them.
He, like Gates, seems to possess a finer-tuned—a more realistic—view of the world, its threats, and our available courses of action than Rumsfeld or Pace ever articulated. The question for the next 15 months is this: If pressures build to attack Iran, will Adm. Mullen give his unvarnished military advice to Secretary Gates, and will both of them present their conclusions to President Bush? Or will they sail with the winds and say what the masters want them to say? That's the ultimate test of whether anything has really changed, of whether Peter Pace might as well have stayed around.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of Peter Pace by Win McNamee/Getty Images.