Despite what Duncan Hunter and most of the other Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee would have you believe, General David Petraeus's uniform does not earn him immunity from criticism.
I thought MoveOn.org's full page "Petraeus or Betray Us" ad in yesterday's New York Times was a bit more incendiary than needed to make the desired point, but it was pabulum compared to the propaganda shenanigans the Bush administration and its echo chamberlains have pulled over the years to promote their woebegone war in Iraq. And the concern Democratic members of Congress have regarding Petraeus was well summarized by Senator Dianne Feinstein when she said, "I don't think he's an independent evaluator." That statement is more than fair, more than balanced; because the fact of the matter is that Petraeus is not an independent evaluator.
American Caesar or Gunga Din?
Petraeus drew criticism about his motivations the old fashioned way--he earned it. He is, in fact, carrying water for the Bush administration in its pursuit of continued military commitment to Iraq and it is ridiculous to pretend otherwise.
For starters, Petraeus has a personal stake in the success of the so-called "surge" strategy. He did not "invent" it, as some would have you believe. Fred Kagan and other think tank neoconservatives can take the blame for that. But Petraeus did step up and embrace the surge when virtually all of the rest of the four-star community, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were opposed to it, and he adopted it despite the fact that the surge did not provide sufficient troops to conduct the tactics outlined in the "book on counterinsurgency" that he supposedly wrote. (He didn't write the revised Army/Marine Corps Field Manual on counterinsurgency. A bunch of light colonels and majors and sergeants wrote it. Petraeus signed off on it. Whether he read it or not we may never know.)
Of more important note, though, is that the very nature of Petraeus's testimony before the House Committee on Monday was in lockstep with standard administration rhetoric.
-- He deliberately overstated the role of al Qaeda in Mesopotamia in the civil and sectarian violence taking place in Iraq, and perpetuated the ubiquitous inference that al Qaeda in Iraq is the same al Qaeda that executed the 9/11 attacks. When challenged on that line of argument by Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-New York), Petraeus shifted into the full evasion mode.
-- He conspicuously highlighted what he considers to be military "victories" while steadfastly avoiding any mention of the fact that none of these tactical "successes" have led to one iota of progress in Iraq's political structure. In war--especially at this particular point in this particular war--tactical victories that do not lead to political progress are meaningless. Put another way, tactical success that doesn't achieve political goals is organized but meaningless violence. Petraeus knows this darn good and well, and for him to pretend otherwise in front of a congressional committee is nothing short of world-class mendacity.
-- Petraeus's most outrageous piece of hocus-pocus was his talk of troop pullbacks. The front page of Tuesday morning's Virginian-Pilot read "TIME TO BRING SOME HOME, TOP GENERAL IN IRAQ SAYS." Newspapers and TV talking heads throughout the country are saying much the same, and it's bunch of bunk. The pullbacks Petraeus was talking about aren't something he can agree to because of the success of the surge so far. They're a fait accompli. Back in January 2007, when the surge began, high-level military officials, including Petraeus's number two man in Iraq Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, agreed that it could only be sustained through April 2008. Petraeus is not only talking about sticking with the surge as planned, he's talking about extending it another three months (half a Standard Friedman Unit or STFU) into next summer. But he knew just how to frame his intentions so that in they would play in Peoria like he's pushing to bring the troops home early. Petraeus is nothing if not a master of public relations and media manipulation.
Service Dress Body Armor
The four stars on his epaulets and the rows of ribbons that extend from the top of his breast pocket to his left eyebrow do not grant Petraeus exemption from deconstruction of his parochial agenda and insidious methods. Rovewellians like Duncan Hunter would like to shield Petraeus behind their "support the troops" mantra, but that's yet another false Bush administration stratagem.
David Petraeus is not a "troop." He's a four-star general in operational command of the best-trained, best-equipped armed force in the history of humanity that just happens to be losing a war against an enemy that doesn't have a navy or an air force or a military industrial complex or anything else that his force was trained or equipped to defeat. Petraeus has life and death control over more human beings than did Pericles, Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar combined. You can support the troops and still protest the war, but you can't separate Petraeus from the war. Petraeus is the war. He's not a private soldier; he's a public figure. And he's not a public servant; he's a politician, one who at present is promoting the agenda of America's politician in chief.
One of the definitions of "betray" in my old Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary is "to deceive; mislead." So was MoveOn.org org unjustified in asking "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" Different people will draw different conclusions, but you know, if you want to convince the world that you're not a politician hawking the Bush administration's agenda, you don't go about it by repeating your pro-surge message to Brit Hume on Fox News like Petraeus did last night.
Petraeus prevaricates. You decide.
On Tuesday, at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings, John Warner (R-Virginia) asked Petraeus if the war in Iraq was making America safer. Warner had to ask the question twice because Petraeus tried to dodge it the first time. He finally replied, "I don't know, actually."
I don't buy that answer. I think Petraeus actually does know. I think he knows better than anyone else.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword, ePluribus and Military.com. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books, ISBN: 9781601640192) will be available March 1, 2008.