Andrew J. Bacevich
The American Conservative, October 8, 2007
Edited by Andy Ross
David Petraeus is a political general. In presenting his recent assessment
of the Iraq War, he demonstrated that he is a political general of the worst
From the beginning of the Iraq War, the failure to plan for an
occupation, the wildly inflated expectations of Iraq's rapid transformation
into a liberal democracy, the refusal to acknowledge the insurgency until
long after it had begun, the deeply flawed campaign that ensued: all of
these meant that the exertions of U.S. troops tended to be at odds with our
stated political intentions.
The Petraeus-Crocker hearings found
Petraeus in a position to resolve that problem. Over the previous months,
President Bush had effectively abdicated responsibility for managing the
The general has now made his call, and President Bush has
endorsed it: the surge having succeeded, it will now be curtailed. The war
will continue, albeit on a marginally smaller scale. Petraeus has chosen a
middle course. This is the politics of give and take. Ultimately, it is the
politics of avoidance.
In testifying before House and Senate
committees about the current situation in Iraq, Petraeus told no outright
lies. He made no blustery promises about victory. The tone of the
presentation was sober and measured. Yet the essence of his message was
this: after four years of futile blundering, the United States has
identified the makings of a successful strategy in Iraq.
should he have recommended to the Congress and the president? That is, if
the commitment of a modest increment of additional forces has begun to turn
things around, then what should the senior field commander be asking for
More time. More money. And above all, more troops. It is one of
the oldest principles of generalship: when you find an opportunity, exploit
it. Where you gain success, reinforce it. When you have your opponent at a
disadvantage, pile on.
Yet Petraeus has chosen to do just the
opposite. This defies logic. Petraeus is a serious student of
counterinsurgencies. He knows that they require lots of troops. He knows
that they require lots of time. The counter-insurgency manual that Petraeus
helped draft prior to taking up command in Baghdad makes these points
There is only one plausible explanation for Petraeus'
terminating a surge that he says has enabled coalition forces to gain the
upper hand. That explanation is politics. Above all, a modest drawdown
pleases President Bush. It gives him breathing room to continue the conflict
in which he has so much invested.
After 9/11, to sustained bipartisan
applause, President Bush committed the United States to an open-ended global
war on terror. Having made that fundamental decision, the president and
Congress sent American soldiers off to fight that war.
six years later, is a massive and growing gap between the resources required
to sustain that global war and the resources actually available to do so.
The president has made no serious effort to mobilize the wherewithal that
his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan require.
Petraeus has now given this
charade a further lease on life. In effect, he is allowing the president and
the Congress to continue dodging the main issue. If the civilian leadership
wants to wage a global war on terror and if that war entails pacifying Iraq,
then let's get serious about it.
Once we recognize the global war on
terror for the fraudulent enterprise that it has become, then we can get
serious about designing a strategy to address the real threat, which is
violent Islamic radicalism.
A great political general doesn't tell
his masters what they want to hear. He tells them what they need to hear.
Petraeus has failed his country.
AR (2007) This argument has
some plausibility. Petraeus has missed a chance to make history. A slow exit
from Iraq will only leave the Iraqis to endure more pain. The only
explanation is that the stated reason for the invasion is eyewash. The
present strategy suggests that the real reason is oil.
Petraeus has lost Iraq and now he is losing Afghanistan. What next?