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.