"How the troops are configured, what the deployment looks like will depend upon the recommendations of David Petraeus."
-- George W. Bush, 9 August 2007
Despite what Duncan Hunter and most of the other Republicans on the House Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees would like 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 Monday's New York Times was a bit more incendiary than it needed to be, 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 congressional Democrats have regarding Petraeus was aptly summarized by Senator Dianne Feinstein when she said, "I don't think he's an independent evaluator." That statement was more than fair, more than balanced, because Petraeus is not an independent evaluator. He's not even close.
American Caesar or Gunga Din?
Petraeus drew skepticism about his motives the old fashioned way--he earned it. Mr. Bush's "main man" is, in fact, carrying water for the administration and it is ridiculous to pretend otherwise.
To begin with, Petraeus has a personal stake in the success of the so-called "surge" strategy. He did not "invent" it, as some would have you think. Fred Kagan and other think tank neoconservatives can take the blame for that. Petraeus did, however, step up and embrace the surge when virtually all the rest of the four-star community, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was opposed to it. What's more, he adopted the surge even though it did not provide sufficient troops to conduct the tactics outlined in the "book on counterinsurgency" he supposedly wrote. (Generals don't write field manuals. A bunch of light colonels and majors and sergeants revised the old counterinsurgency manual, and Petraeus signed off on the revision. Whether he read it or not we may never know.)
More important to note, though, is that Petraeus's testimony before the House 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 gains are merely organized but meaningless violence. Petraeus knows that 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 on Monday 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 were saying much the same, and it's a bunch of bunk. The pullbacks Petraeus is talking about aren't, as he claims, 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. Now, Petraeus is not only talking about sticking with the surge as planned, he's talking about extending it another three months into next summer. But he knows just how to frame his intentions so the folks in Peoria think he's pushing to bring troops home early. Petraeus is nothing if not a master of public relations and media manipulation.
Dress Green 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 agenda and 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 getting its hat handed to it by an enemy that doesn't have a navy or an air force or a military industrial complex or anything else that Petraeus's 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; he's a political operative, one who at present is the point man for promoting the program of America's politician in chief.
Petraeus Reports. You Decide.
One of the definitions of "betray" in my 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 salesman hawking Mr. Bush's snake oil, you don't go about it by doing a pro-surge infomercial on Fox News like Petraeus did Monday night.
On Tuesday, at the Senate 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 that the Iraq war is actually making America, and the world, a more dangerous place to live.
Is it too much to hope that our American Caesar just met his Ides of September a few days early?
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.