ARLINGTON, Va. — The nominations of Gen. David Petraeus and Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno to top positions in U.S. Central Command and Iraq respectively are part of a shift in the military’s warfighting philosophy to the counterinsurgency tactics that both men embrace, experts said.

Petraeus is one of a few commanders with the expertise in counterinsurgency needed to head U.S. Central Command, said Charles Perry, of the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, a nonpartisan think-tank based in Cambridge, Mass.

“Whatever one thinks about the longevity of operations in Iraq, what he and those around him brought to the mission was absolutely needed and way too long getting there,” Perry said.

The Defense Department announced Wednesday that Petraeus had been nominated for the new post, while Odierno had been nominated to become the new overall commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, and Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli got the nod for Army vice chief of staff.

Petraeus is co-author of the Army and Marine Corps’ counterinsurgency manual, Odierno is credited with carrying out successful counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq and Chiarelli reportedly advocated adopting counterinsurgency tactics while serving as the No. 2 commander in Iraq.

The nominations show how much political leaders believe in the importance of the counterinsurgency doctrine, said Chris Preble, of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank in Washington.

“The political leaders are privileging — are giving greater opportunities — to people who are the strongest advocates for counterinsurgency and they are tending to not extend those same opportunities to people who continue to make the case for strong traditional military capabilities,” Preble said.

The shift of the Army’s emphasis toward counterinsurgency is “long overdue,” said Loren Thompson, of the Lexington Institute, a libertarian think-tank in Arlington, Va.

“The United States Army as it began this century was much the same army that fought imperialism and fascism and communism in the 20th century,” Thompson said.

Now Army leadership is being reshaped by generals’ experience in the war on terrorism, he said.

“I think that there will be less emphasis on heavy forces and conventional warfighting because we have no peer adversary in the conventional arena, and yet we seem to be facing endless conflicts in the unconventional realm,” he said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made it clear that the services should focus on unconventional threats and he is not satisfied with their “preoccupation” with improbable conventional conflicts, such as a war with China, Thompson said.

On Monday, Gates stressed the importance of asymmetrical warfare skills in a speech at the Air War College in Maxwell, Ala.

“As I’ve told Army gatherings, the lessons learned and capabilities built from the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns need to be institutionalized into the service’s core doctrine, funding priorities, and personnel policies,” Gates said. “And that is taking place, though we must always guard against falling into past historical patterns where, if bureaucratic nature takes its course, these kinds of irregular capabilities tend to slide to the margins.”

But Michael O’Hanlon, an expert with the Brookings Institute, a liberal think-tank in Washington, cautioned against reading too much into the three general officers’ nominations.

Gates and President Bush had a practical reason for nominating Petraeus as the head of CENTCOM — they did not want both Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker both to leave Iraq at the same time; so, they would put Petraeus at CENTCOM and give him someone with whom he could work well, namely Odierno, O’Hanlon said.

O’Hanlon said he was surprised that Odierno was tapped to be the new commander in Iraq instead of Chiarelli, but it shows that Odierno has a level of expertise on Iraq and contacts in the Iraqi security forces that cannot be matched.

The Petraeus and Odierno nominations ensure a continuity of command, said Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a bipartisan think-tank in Washington.

A commander with proven expertise is, he said, “One of the best insurance policies that an ordinary soldier or sailor or airman can have.”

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