Demythologizing Petraeus

Frank Rich writes an important column on the reality behind the myth of General Petraeus. Some key execerpts:

As always with this White House’s propaganda offensives, the message in Mr. Bush’s relentless repetitions never varies. General Petraeus is the “main man.” He is the man who gives “candid advice.” Come September, he will be the man who will give the president and the country their orders about the war.

. . . Actually, we don’t have to wait. We already know what David will say. He gave it away to The Times of London last month, when he said that September “is a deadline for a report, not a deadline for a change in policy.” In other words: Damn the report (and that irrelevant Congress that will read it) — full speed ahead. There will be no change in policy.


Though General Petraeus wrote his 1987 Princeton doctoral dissertation on “The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam,” he has an unshakable penchant for seeing light at the end of tunnels. It has been three Julys since he posed for the cover of Newsweek under the headline “Can This Man Save Iraq?” The magazine noted that the general’s pacification of Mosul was “a textbook case of doing counterinsurgency the right way.” Four months later, the police chief installed by General Petraeus defected to the insurgents, along with most of the Sunni members of the police force. Mosul, population 1.7 million, is now an insurgent stronghold, according to the Pentagon’s own June report.

Again, I stress, this is not meant to doubt General Petraeus' integrity or competence. It is meant to treat him for what he is - not an infallible disinterested observer, but a soldier who believes he can accomplish an impossible mission and will view events in a manner that most favors that belief. This is to be expected from ALL human beings. More.

Rich reminds us of other evaluations by Petraeus:

By the time reality ambushed his textbook victory, the general had moved on to the mission of making Iraqi troops stand up so American troops could stand down. “Training is on track and increasing in capacity,” he wrote in The Washington Post in late September 2004, during the endgame of the American presidential election. He extolled the increased prowess of the Iraqi fighting forces and the rebuilding of their infrastructure.

The rest is tragic history. Were the Iraqi forces on the trajectory that General Petraeus asserted in his election-year pep talk, no “surge” would have been needed more than two years later. . . .

. . . This general may well be, as many say, the brightest and bravest we have. But that doesn’t account for why he has been invested by the White House and its last-ditch apologists with such singular power over the war.

. . . That’s because the Petraeus phenomenon is not about protecting the troops or American interests but about protecting the president. For all Mr. Bush’s claims of seeking “candid” advice, he wants nothing of the kind. He sent that message before the war, with the shunting aside of Eric Shinseki, the general who dared tell Congress the simple truth that hundreds of thousands of American troops would be needed to secure Iraq. The message was sent again when John Abizaid and George Casey were supplanted after they disagreed with the surge.

. . . To be the “most credible” person in this war team means about as much as being the most sober tabloid starlet in the Paris-Lindsay cohort. But never mind. What Mr. Bush meant is that General Petraeus is famous for minding his press coverage, even to the point of congratulating the ABC News anchor Charles Gibson for “kicking some butt” in the Nielsen ratings when Mr. Gibson interviewed him last month. The president, whose 65 percent disapproval rating is now just one point shy of Richard Nixon’s pre-resignation nadir, is counting on General Petraeus to be the un-Shinseki and bestow whatever credibility he has upon White House policies and pronouncements.

He is delivering, heaven knows. Like Mr. Bush, he has taken to comparing the utter stalemate in the Iraqi Parliament to “our own debates at the birth of our nation,” as if the Hamilton-Jefferson disputes were akin to the Shiite-Sunni bloodletting. He is also starting to echo the administration line that Al Qaeda is the principal villain in Iraq, a departure from the more nuanced and realistic picture of the civil-war-torn battlefront he presented to Senate questioners in his confirmation hearings in January.

Petraeus is NOT and can NOT be the honest broker here. He is invested on ths mission, as he should be. Yet again the Beltway Elite simply do not understand their roles, which is not to worship at the altar of the "New Jesus" - it is to question and test what the "New Jesus" is saying. They have learned nothing these past 6 years.

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  • Display: Sort:
    I'm sure you know of it already (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by KM on Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 02:54:48 PM EST
    but here's Glenn kickstarting the process:

    How much credence should Gen. Petraeus' reports be given?

    Glad to see Rich get in on the act.

    We all know what Petraeus will say: (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Geekesque on Sun Jul 29, 2007 at 07:40:44 PM EST
    1.  'Victory' is achievable;
    2.  Success is not guaranteed;
    3.  Results have been mixed;
    4.  More troops please.

    Indeed (none / 0) (#4)
    by Al on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 01:10:15 AM EST
    What I would like to know is what Congress will have to say in reply.

    More Time Please (none / 0) (#5)
    by john horse on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 06:09:06 AM EST
    Nice and concise comments Geekesque.  My prediction is that he won't ask for more troops but for more time because per Bush/Petraeus things are moving in the right direction.  In other words there is a light at the end of tunnel.  Victory is just around the corner.  They just need more time to get the job done.  If any of this sounds familiar its because its the same old cr*p we have heard for the last four or five years.  

    take frank rich, (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by cpinva on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 12:19:24 AM EST
    please! what a totally useless waste of good carbon and oxygen he is, nearly as much as maureen dowd, his pathetic column and soul mate.

    well gee whiz, figured that out all by his little lonesome, did he? sure he didn't have help? like maybe, anyone in the free world with even half a functioning brain?

    got to get up pretty darn early in the morning, to put one over on old frank there! ok, i made that up, you needn't even bother getting out of bed, to put one over on mr. rich, who's been wrong so often in the past 15 years, he wouldn't know right if it slapped him in the face.

    This is to be expected from ALL human beings.

    no BTD, it isn't, only from those suffering massive self-delusion. fortunately, they don't teach that at our military academies, you have to learn it on your own.

    this whole exercise has been a clusterf*ck right from the start; from the lies that lent the administration legitimacy, to the poor/cheap advance planning, to the inept/totally lacking follow-through.

    the good general, and all his cohorts at the staff level & above, were complicit in this, and continue to be so. instead of telling the president (at the risk of being fired, i'll grant you), it can't be done with what we have available, they continue to assert that it can it can be, if only we change our tactics, and dribble in a few thousand more troops to the meatgrinder.

    whatever happened to the concept of the men being the most important asset the general & staff officers had? that their needs were paramount, above all else? that you don't just throw them into the fray, without proper training, material & supplies, and most certainly not without a plan that gives them the best chance to be successful?

    it's not at all surprising that neither bush or cheney learned any lessons from vietnam, they chose to ignore it. what's criminal is that today's military leaders don't appear to have either.

    in that regard, gen. petreaus is just one of the herd.

    Great write up (none / 0) (#6)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 11:33:28 AM EST
    My opine on this is old hat and now can only be called an o'whine.  I think Congress understands fully now that Petraeus is not going to save them from Dubya and they now have to save themselves.  If we could just bottle Petraeus' exuberance and charisma in the face of everything wrong with lots of dead people we could knock Prozac right off the shelf.

    Wouldn't he make a great coach though BTD (none / 0) (#7)
    by Militarytracy on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 11:35:56 AM EST
    in game where scoring didn't often involve people dying?

    And the propaganda goes on (none / 0) (#8)
    by Alien Abductee on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 01:32:40 PM EST
    Try 2009 (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Sailor on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 05:00:59 PM EST
    Big US Presence in Iraq Until Mid-2009: Commander
    by Reuters staffwriters
    BAGHDAD - U.S. generals expect to need a large contingent of troops  in Iraq until the
    middle of 2009, the commander of U.S. forces in  Iraq said on Monday.

    Bush wants to make it impossible to leave before he's out of office and then blame them for iraq.