08 December 2012

Another Look at Petraeus

Another look at The Petraeus affair from The Economist

Of more abiding interest is what sort of legacy an extraordinary career has left. The general’s status as the epitome of the modern soldier-statesman-scholar was rooted in both real achievement and a myth of his own and others’ creation. Back home after two tours in Iraq, he used the time to digest the lessons he had learned to rewrite the army’s field manual on counterinsurgency (COIN). At the heart of what became known as “population-centric COIN” was the notion that the operational priority should be providing security for ordinary people and thus creating the conditions for a government under attack by an insurgency to earn legitimacy through the provision of goods and services.

By late 2006, faced with what looked like a descent into bloody civil war, most senior American officers were ready to give up on Iraq. However George W. Bush, desperate to try to find a less appalling denouement to the war, saw General Petraeus, supported by a controversial “surge” in troop numbers, as a possible lifeline for his reputation. How much of the (relative) success that followed was due to General Petraeus and how much the so-called “Anbar Awakening”—the rejection by Sunni tribal leaders of al-Qaeda’s ethnic slaughter that had begun shortly before the general’s return in January 2007—is still argued over. General Petraeus may have been lucky, but he worked with the grain of events to bend the history of the war around a narrative of narrowly averted disaster that was more or less true.

In June 2010, when Stanley McChrystal, his dedicated protégé, resigned as commander in Afghanistan after the reporting of remarks by his staff critical of the new administration, General Petraeus was sent for by Mr Obama to repeat his magic in Kabul. A time-limited troop surge was under way, but he knew official patience was running out and that the chances of applying a successful COIN strategy in a country as divided and poor as Afghanistan were slim. Even so, the speed with which he abandoned it in favour of a much more “kinetic” approach aimed at getting a quick improvement in security by killing as many Taliban as possible was breathtaking.

By the time General Petraeus handed over to his successor, General John Allen, 13 months later, a deadline for the withdrawal of foreign troops at the end of 2014 had been set. General Allen was bizarrely drawn into the Petraeus scandal on November 13th when the Pentagon revealed that he had exchanged thousands of e-mails over a four-year period with Jill Kelley. Ms Kelley, a Tampa-based socialite who knew both men, triggered the FBI inquiry into the CIA director last May after receiving threatening e-mails from an apparently jealous Ms Broadwell. General Allen’s confirmation hearing as the new supreme commander in Europe has been put on hold because of the “inappropriate” nature of some of the e-mails.

COIN required more time and money than war-weary, economically stressed voters would stomach. As Mr Obama reiterated during his re-election campaign, nation-building now needs to take place at home. Boots on the ground are out again; special forces and drones, used to seek out and kill America’s enemies, are back in. After becoming director of the CIA, which has become the lead agency in fighting the high-tech, intelligence-led campaign against al-Qaeda and its offshoots, General Petraeus had no compunction in helping strangle his own COIN baby when it had outlived its usefulness.

Much more at the link

By: Brant

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

In 3-4 year when the 'personal' issues have receded both Petraeus and McChrystal will be looked back on FAR more favourably than they are now.