America loves a comeback kid, and Former CIA Director and retired Army Gen. David Petraeus is on a comeback tour.
After resigning in disgrace as Director of the CIA last year because of an extra-martial affair, Petraeus has worked hard at getting back to a good place in the eyes of the American people.
The first step was a philanthropic tour as a professor at New York City’s public university, for which he was paid just $US1.
It didn’t go as well as planned, as students affiliated virulently protested his presence there. Six were eventually arrested.
But why is Petraeus so invested in rehabilitating his image? Perhaps he is mulling a run for political office. Maybe he is just trying to protect a once virtually spotless legacy.
The keystone of that legacy is the belief that Petraeus won the war in Iraq. He commanded the war during President George W. Bush’s “surge” and is widely heralded as the architect of the Counterinsurgency strategy that surge forces worked to implement.
Yesterday, Petraeus took the next step toward that end with an exhaustive, nearly 8,000 word op-ed in Foreign Policy called “How We Won In Iraq.”
The timing is odd. Right now, Iraq is on fire. More than 7,000 civilians have been killed this year, a pretty clear indication that whatever perceived security gains were made prior to the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. combat forces were not sustainable. And so it’s strange for Petraeus to take this moment to remind everyone about his greatest “success” in Iraq.
And yet he does, in dense fashion. Using the word “surge” 74 times.
“I recognised early on that I had become the face of the surge,” he writes. “I had not asked for this role, but whether I liked it or not, I had to fill it.”
He breaks his editorial down into sections:
- The Surge of Forces and the Surge of Ideas
- The Sunni Awakening and Reconciliation
- Targeted Special Operations
- The Development of Iraqi Security Forces
- The Civilian Components
- Detainee Operations and Rule-of-Law Initiatives
- The Iraqi Political Component and Strategic Communications
- The Magnitude of the Difficulty
- Commanding MNF-I
- The Road Ahead
Petraeus shows off his Ivy League doctorate in political science and years of first-hand experience in the region. And regardless of the motives, it’s a remarkable account from the perspective of the general who ran the war — a rare historical insight.
He also addresses some of the more questionable and ambiguous history of U.S. operations in Iraq, including whether the surge precipitated the Anbar Awakening.
He concedes that the Anbar Awakening started before the surge, and before he arrived in the region, but he claims his strategies made it spread throughout Iraq.
“The spread of the Awakening was not serendipity; it was the result of a deliberate decision I took soon after taking command,” he says.
But embracing the Awakening often meant forming alliances with the same people who had previously been fighting American forces for years. Petraeus acknowledged it was a tough sell to other military leaders.
“Many correctly pointed out that the leaders and members of the groups that wanted to reconcile with us groups that might be willing to embrace the Awakening … had American blood on their hands.”
Simultaneous to the surge, Petraeus, working with the then commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, a lieutenant general named Stanley McChrystal, expanded a program to capture or kill high-level operatives.
“Although I publicly acknowledged from the outset that we would not be able to kill or capture our way to victory (hence the need to support the Awakening),” Petraeus writes, “killing or capturing the most important of the ‘irreconcilables’ was an inescapable and hugely important element of our strategy.”
He concluded by saying that Iraq has slipped back into chaos because the surge tactics stopped:
What mattered most was the surge of ideas — concepts that embraced security of the people by “living with them,” initiatives to promote reconciliation with elements of the population that felt they had no incentive to support the new Iraq, ramping up of precise operations that targeted the key “irreconcilables,” the embrace of an enhanced comprehensive civil-military approach, increased attention to various aspects of the rule of law, improvements to infrastructure and basic services, and support for various political actions that helped bridge ethno-sectarian divides.
But Petraeus’ account of the history of the war was immediately met with some criticism:
Chase Winter, an international development officer at the American University of Iraq, tweeted that Petraeus outlined “what we did to win, [without] defining winning.”
“For Petraeus to write this while Iraq burns takes enormous balls,” tweeted Joshua Foust, a former intelligence analyst and freelance journalist.
The claim that the surge worked in Iraq is a bit of a point of contention. An Army lieutenant colonel named Daniel Davis gained notoriety last year by publishing a blistering account of the war and said that any gains made were pure luck. Davis was deployed to Iraq from 2008-2009.
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