To distract from the failures and complete absurdity of “the one they’ve been waiting for”-in-Chief, the left (and the anti-right right) has begun a steady march to discredit the one man whose leadership will live on in a brilliance Obama can only dream of: General David H. Petraeus. With Petraeus’s new CIA job, it seems they have an excuse to come out with some new-yet-rehashed material. That and they might be feeling a little vulnerable come 2012.
First up, a hack job opinion post published by U.S. News contributor Stephen Glain, which attempts to portray Petraeus as a Presidentially ambitious politician on the sly, doomed to failure because of his pursuit of a “Vietnam-esque” myth regarding small wars. If the facts had been set out straight, Glain would have disproven his own point that “Vietnam was not a winnable war,” rather than trying to bring shame to Petraeus’s name. Additionally, if Iraq had not been ultimately successful in its implementation of counterinsurgency doctrine (“COIN”), Glain might have been able to further tie the idea of “failure in Vietnam” to a supposed failure on Petraeus’s part.
Next, a Huffington Post article by Michael Brenner entitled “I, Petraeus,” seemingly set in tones of hubris derived from Brenner’s opinion of his own opinion. This article draws the conclusion that Petraeus is an effective and powerful leader with diplomatic abilities and a driving ambition to maintain American influence—using a carefully crafted network of personal and professional relationships. At least, that’s the conclusion any Petraeus fan would come away with. While trying to portray Petraeus as a plotting power-obsessed Number Two, the author instead details how effective the General has been as both a commander and a diplomat, exemplifying the new face of today’s military. Brenner retains membership in the “COIN = Vietnam = failure” crowd, though, so it’s difficult for him to say anything nice about Petraeus, a man rightly celebrated for implementing a strategy that Brenner dismisses as invalid.
For reasons that can only possibly be classified as intended to cause annoyance, Diane West over at Andrew Breitbart’s “Big Peace” picked up Brenner’s article, and then rehashed it along with her own commentary on the matter. Because she named her piece “The Petraeus CIA: A Gigantic Conflict of Interest,” you’d think there would be some juicy bits about staffers married to defense contractors, or financial connections to oil reserves in countries we are supposed to be in conflict with. Instead, the whole thing just rants about COIN being another word for “nation building.” If you’re part of the isolationist or Ron Paul wing of the GOP, this piece is for you. Everyone else can just shake their head about the bipartisan need to try and take away from one of the greatest leaders this generation of Americans will ever see.
Continuing with the narrative of attempting to discredit the efficacy of COIN comes a piece at Democracy Arsenal called “The Real Legacy of David Petraeus” by Michael Cohen. Cohen relies on building a straw man, as he has done with previous work, banking on the supposed impression that COIN is less violent than traditional, conventional-style warfare. On the contrary—COIN is a strategy devised to meet the circumstances of an insurgency. It’s neither perfect nor without challenges, and seeing as it’s based on the human element of war, it doesn’t pretend to be seamless or easy. It certainly doesn’t claim to forego brute force, traditional or otherwise. Instead, it claims to be the best strategy to respond to the situation at hand, protecting the population directly rather than merely avoiding them.
“Hearts and minds” isn’t a humanitarian outreach program to help a population feel “warm and fuzzy.” It’s a strategy for winning wars.
Cohen tries to claim that Petraeus made the Iraq and Afghanistan wars longer by implementing COIN, as though under-resourcing our forces or removing our presence entirely and allowing a bloody civil war to reverse all of our gains were better, “quicker” options. In sum, Cohen’s article is just a hit piece taking swipes at anything that served his purpose of minimizing Petraeus’s very real and significant achievements.
Of course, criticism of Petraeus isn’t a new thing at all; however, this recent wave of contempt underscores a trend that already began under the radar; it is an attempt to discredit counterinsurgency itself.
Isn’t it fascinating that in order to find “failure” within a counterinsurgency mission, one has to pretend it exists in a vacuum? Isn’t it convenient to criticize, say, the minimal gains made in Afghanistan implementing COIN when the President never fully resourced a COIN campaign there to begin with?
Each scenario wherein COIN supposedly has “failed” is described as though it were the doctrine itself that was at fault—rather than poor decisions made by the leadership—which were not in line with the doctrine at all. These are cherry-picked to create a false narrative.
This style of argument is especially telling in Cohen’s article when he cites a piece from The Atlantic with a hearsay quotes from discussions between Obama and Petraeus. Petraeus assures the President that a transition to Afghan national forces is achievable within 18 months. Under what conditions? And at what point did the assurance occur? Cohen pushes the quote as though the President asked the question in the context of an operation of 300,000 troops and American civilian leaders that were actually supportive of the idea of victory. The fact is, Obama barely authorized the minimum troop levels needed to operate in a very limited context. This was not a full COIN operation—something also pointed out in the article Cohen derived his referenced quote from, but not mentioned by him in his own piece.
Another narrative that’s worth breaking down is the notion that Petraeus is an ideologue in search of tools to implement some kind of national or global vision. Unlike the current President’s intentions, Petraeus did not go to West Point with the hopes of “fundamentally transforming America” one day. He is a man of talent and intelligence, yes. But he is also a man of hard work, determination, and most importantly, a man who seeks to succeed in the tasks given to him. Iraq needed a new direction, and Petraeus found one that would work. After that, he was on to bigger things as the chief of Central Command, but took a demotion to lead the mission in Afghanistan when asked. This was something unexpected, but accepted by him because as a member of the United States armed forces, that’s what he does.
Why journalists feel a need to attempt discrediting a military leader for doing his job well—an achievement in the best interests of the United States—is perplexing. With 2012 approaching and a failed President attempting reelection, any contenders viewed as a threat are naturally going to be targeted. Thus, the march to discredit Petraeus begins . . . again.