Overhyping Petraeus

Andrew Bacevich has a piece in The New Republic under the headline, “Army of One: The Overhyping of David Petraeus.” It makes some good points, including some made here (see, especially, “Petraeus Fetishism“). He’ll get no argument from me, certainly, that politicians and the press have placed too much emphasis on Petraeus’ skills and too little on the realities of the political situation.

Unfortunately, the merits of Bacevich’s argument get overshadowed by misplaced vitriol.

His criticism of Norman “Schwarzkopf’s failure to finish off an adversary of remarkable ineptitude left Saddam Hussein in power, his Republican Guard largely intact, and Iraqi Kurds and Shia under Saddam’s boot” is simply bizarre. Schwarzkopf did the job he was assigned: Force Saddam’s troops out of Kuwait and inflicted enough pain to get him to sign a cease-fire that placed strict limits on his sovereignty.

That we didn’t “finish the job” in 1991 is an ironic myth, indeed, coming from someone who opposed the present war. The mess we’re in now would have paled in comparison to that we’d have faced had we marched into Baghdad at the time. And, in any case, that decision was made by President George H.W. Bush, not Schwarzkopf.

Similarly, while Tommy Franks deserves plenty of criticism (see Fiasco and Cobra II, for example) much of it’s ridiculous to say that he “labored mightily to convert a small, unnecessary war into an epic debacle.” Most of the key decisions were made by people not in uniform.

He twists the knife on John Abizaid, Ricardo Sanchez, and George Casey, saying, “These earnest and no doubt well-meaning men inherited a difficult situation and gave it their all, expending lives and money with abandon.” While the competence of Sanchez and Casey, in particular, in managing a counterinsurgency operation can certainly be questioned, it’s outrageous to claim that they were indifferent to the lives lost.

TNR has recently come under much fire for handing its prestigious platform to the anonymous writings of an unproven Scott Thomas Beauchamp without much in the way of editorial oversight (see Memeorandum for a collection of the latest stories and reactions). In the case of Bacevich, who is a legitimate expert commentator, they are remiss in not noting that the author recently lost his son in this war and might be understandably be less than objective. And perhaps the editors should have raised some questions about his assertions and given him a chance for revision.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Military Affairs, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    That we didn’t “finish the job” in 1991 is an ironic myth, indeed, coming from someone who opposed the present war. The mess we’re in now would have paled in comparison to that we’d have faced had we marched into Baghdad at the time. And, in any case, that decision was made by President George H.W. Bush, not Schwarzkopf.

    My understanding is that leaving Saddam in power was the price paid for the coalition that Bush 41 was able to assemble. That is, it is not logically tenable to fault Bush 43 for not assembling more of a coalition and fault Bush 41 for not removing Saddam.

    And, of course, faulting Gen. Schwarzkopf for leaving Saddam in power is completley misplaced.

  2. markm says:

    “He’ll get no argument from me, certainly, that politicians and the press have placed too much emphasis on Petraeus’ skills and too little on the realities of the political situation.”

    Petraeus is someone to hide behind for the politicians and the press. He’s got a good enough track record that you want to see what he can do….all the while giving the politico’s and press cover for their decisions and coverage.

    Also, i’m getting flustered by the Iraqi govn’t as are most people. That said, I really don’t know to what extent the Iraqi govn’t can proceed until there is at least a military stalemate. I would say the military is the bigger part of the “solution” at this point. Hopefully soon that will change and the govn’t can do more to take over (after their recess of course….).

  3. legion says:

    That said, I really don’t know to what extent the Iraqi gov’t can proceed until there is at least a military stalemate. I would say the military is the bigger part of the “solution” at this point.

    I would disagree. There is still a continuing influx of insurgents/militias/AQ wannabees/etc in Iraq, and I don’t think any amount of military force short of genocide will stem that tide until the pool of potential recruits believes they can get what they want through an existing Iraqi gov’t, rather than by killing Americans. Until Iraqis have confidence in their gov’t, they see no other way to accomplish anything except by continuing the warfare…

  4. markm says:

    “Until Iraqis have confidence in their gov’t, they see no other way to accomplish anything except by continuing the warfare…”

    It would seem to me that, were I an Iraqi, I would have confidence in nothing until some sort of peace is reached. AT THIS POINT their gov’t cannot attain peace. They “may” be able to hold it once it is achieved…but we are not at that point yet IMO.