Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

General David Petraeus, savior or schemer?

Posted by Charles II on January 1, 2009

General David Petraeus is being given credit for the implementation of counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq. Knowledgeable observers, like Linda Robinson of USN&WR (speaking at Pritzker War College on 11/22/08; on C-Span 12/31/08), speak glowingly of him as a soldier-scholar. (Robinson’s Tell Me How This Ends is dismissed as hagiography on Abu Muqawama).

Petraeus is one of the very few people at senior levels in the US military who has actually studied counterinsurgency. Spencer Ackerman, Washington Independent:

Petraeus studied counterinsurgency (COIN) early in his career in the 1970s and 1980s, at a time when the Vietnam-wounded service wanted nothing to do with methods of warfare used to draw a civilian population’s political and personal allegiance away from a guerrilla force. “Students of counterinsurgency know that counterinsurgencies are not quick endeavors,” he said during an hour-long conversation. “To state the obvious, they take time, enormous perseverance, [and] they are exceedingly complex.”

Indeed, Petraeus’s 1987 Princeton dissertation focused on how the military systematically stripped away its institutional knowledge of counterinsurgency in the wake of the Vietnam trauma….

After leaving his second Iraq tour in 2005 — he was a division commander during the 2003 invasion and then headed the troubled effort to train Iraqi security forces — Petraeus took the unusual step of leading the Combined Arms Center at Ft. Leavenworth, where the Army educates its mid-career officers. There, Petraeus started the Army’s first counterinsurgency course in at least a generation, and spearheaded the creation of a joint Army/Marine Corps counterinsurgency field manual, known as FM 3-24.

Petraeus is widely credited for turning around the violence in Iraq. But another man, Colonel (now General) Sean MacFarland developed the tactics in Anbar province which represented the first diminution of violence in Iraq. MacFarland was lucky, in that Al Qaeda in Iraq had escalated violence to such levels and indiscrimination that local leaders were willing to listen. And, of course, money was provided to re-employ insurgents as police. But it was that success that made junior officers receptive to Petraeus’s message on counterinsurgency.

Colonel Andrew Bacevich, who was moved by the death of his son to publicly oppose the Iraq War, has written very bitterly of Petraeus as a political general and a sycophant:

David Petraeus is a political general. Yet in presenting his recent assessment of the Iraq War and in describing the “way forward,” Petraeus demonstrated that he is a political general of the worst kind—one who indulges in the politics of accommodation that is Washington’s bread and butter but has thereby deferred a far more urgent political imperative, namely, bringing our military policies into harmony with our political purposes.

and of the results of the surge as a failure:

A year later, signs of genuine reconciliation are few. In an interview with the Washington Post less than a month ago, General Petraeus said that “no one” in the U.S. government “feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation.” …

So although the level of violence has subsided somewhat, the war remains essentially stalemated. Iraq today qualifies only nominally as a sovereign nation-state. It has become a dependency of the United States, unable to manage its own affairs or to provide for the well-being of its own people. As recent events in Basra have affirmed, the Iraqi army, a black hole into which the Pentagon has poured some $22 billion in aid and assistance, still cannot hold its own against armed militias.

According to Spencer Ackerman, there’s a real question as to whether the seed that Petraeus planted will survive his promotion to Centcom:

Several military analysts who respect Petraeus expressed concern that his promotion to Central Command will end up placing the needs of the Iraq war above the broader U.S. interests in the Middle East — including the Afghanistan war, and the reemergence of Al Qaeda in Pakistan. They also sound worried that the new Iraq commander Bush nominated, U.S. Army Gen. Raymond Odierno — Petraeus’ corps commander in Iraq — is not up to the task.

All of this may be inside baseball, of little interest at present to anyone except members of the military and military historians. But there seems to be a movement to elevate Petraeus to the level of adoration once accorded Colin Powell. It would not be surprising if he did not emerge as the next Great White Hope for the Republican party. Steve Clemons thinks so:

There is informal discussion among some in the military set — and increasingly among some pols — that General David Petraeus could be an interesting presidential prospect on the Republican side of the line a few years from now.

This is all speculation — very little grounded in anything serious — but the prospects of a “draft Petraeus” plan, though embryonic, triggered a Chatham House rules discussion today that I participated in in Chicago after I brought up Bill Gertz’s “Draft Tommy Franks for VP in 2008” article that appeared today.

And so an article by David Price may become very relevant very suddenly:

Last December, the U.S. Army and Marine Corps published a new Counterinsurgency Field Manual (No. 3-24). In policy circles, the Manual became an artifact of hope, signifying the move away from the crude logic of “shock and awe” toward calculations that rifle-toting soldiers can win the hearts and minds of occupied Iraq through a new appreciation of cultural nuance.

Some view the Manual as containing plans for a new intellectually fueled “smart bomb,” and it is being sold to the public as a scholarly based strategic guide to victory in Iraq. In July, this contrivance was bolstered as the University of Chicago Press republished the Manual in a stylish, olive drab, faux-field ready edition, designed to slip into flack jackets or Urban Outfitter accessory bags….

The media buzz surrounding the Manual maintains it is a rare work of applied scholarship. Robert Bateman writes in the Chicago Tribune that it is “probably the most important piece of doctrine written in the past 20 years,” crediting this success to the high academic standards and integrity that the Army War College historian, Conrad Crane, brought to the project. Bateman touts Crane’s devotion to using an “honest and open peer review” process, and his reliance on a team of top scholars to draft the Manual. … At the top of that list is the officer who saw the need for a new doctrine, then-Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, Ph.D.”…

While I did not perform exhaustive searches, with a little searching in Chapter 3 alone I found about twenty passages showing either direct use of others’ passages without quotes, or heavy reliance on unacknowledged source materials….

The ways that the processes producing the Manual so easily abused the work of others inform us of larger dynamics in play, when scholars and academic presses lend their reputations, and surrender control, to projects mixing academic with military goals.

There has been a response by Petraeus deputy Lt. Col. John Nagl and a response by David Price in which he makes the key point:

If the Counterinsurgency Field Manual had remained an obscure military document, I can’t imagine this exchange would be occurring. It was the Army’s calculated decision to use the University of Chicago Press to try and sell the American public the notion that we could win the Iraq War based on intellectual principles, rather than shock and awe that raised the ante on claims of academic worth. If there are public claims that the Manual is a work of scholars, then the scholarship of this work needs examination, and this is precisely what my article does.

If Petraeus were an ordinary general, one might pass it off as a dumb mistake. But this is a “soldier-scholar,” a man with a Ph.D. of his own. Doubtless he will try to pass the plagiarism off as the misconduct or error of subordinates. But the man in command is responsible for whatever is done in his name. Will Petraeus step forward and take responsibility and correct the record?

And if not, what is he likely to do as president? We seem to have had a problem recently with people who believe they are above the petty little rules that bind us lesser mortals.


2 Responses to “General David Petraeus, savior or schemer?”

  1. Stormcrow said

    PW, are you able to correlate this nonsense with a range of IP addresses? Perhaps a block of IPs allocated to a specific area’s budget of cable systems or DSL COs?

  2. Charles II said

    I’m the one who tends the spam bucket, Stormcrow. Here you go:


    That would be SoftLayer Technologies Inc.
    1950 N Stemmons Freeway

    I may file an abuse complaint.

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