February 17 Brigade

David Petraeus: A Thrice-Failed Trainer?

There’s a critical sub-genre of reporting on the Petraeus scandal, noting that Petraeus’ sins don’t so much pertain to fucking a dissertation advisee under his desk, but sending lots of men and women to die in his pet failed military strategies.

Of course there’s Michael Hastings’ focus on Petraeus’ successful spin of his failures.

Here’s a brief summary: We can start with the persistent questions critics have raised about his Bronze Star for Valor. Or that, in 2004, during the middle of a presidential election, Petraeus wrote an op-ed in The Washington Postsupporting President Bush and saying that the Iraq policy was working. The policy wasn’t working, but Bush repaid the general’s political advocacy by giving him the top job in the war three years later.

There’s his war record in Iraq, starting when he headed up the Iraqi security force training program in 2004. He’s more or less skated on that, including all the weapons he lost, the insane corruption, and the fact that he essentially armed and trained what later became known as “Iraqi death squads.” On his final Iraq tour, during the so-called “surge,” he pulled off what is perhaps the most impressive con job in recent American history. He convinced the entire Washington establishment that we won the war. [my emphasis]

There’s Michael Cohen’s examination of Petraeus’ role in both the Iraqi and Afghan surge.

The greatest indictment of Petraeus’s record is that, 18 months after announcing the surge, President Obama pulled the plug on a military campaign that had clearly failed to realize the ambitious goals of Petraeus and his merry team of COIN boosters. Today, the Afghanistan war is stalemated with little hope of resolution – either militarily or politically – any time soon. While that burden of failure falls hardest on President Obama, General Petraeus is scarcely blameless. Yet, to date, he has almost completely avoided examination for his conduct of the war in Afghanistan.

But I want to look at Petraeus booster David Ignatius’ take. His post today is barely critical of Petraeus. But it acknowledges that Petraeus’ CIA has been too focused on paramilitary ops to the detriment of human collection, which proved to be a fatal failure in Benghazi.

Petraeus was picked for the job, and eager to take it, partly because the White House believed that in an era of counterterrorism, the CIA’s traditional mission of stealing secrets was morphing into a wider role that increasingly stressed paramilitary covert action. The retired general, with his matchless experience in running wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was seen as well-suited to run an agency that combined the trench coat and the flak jacket.

But the Petraeus-era CIA had a hidden defect, quite apart from any errant e-mails, which was that the paramilitary covert-action function was swallowing alive the old-fashioned intelligence-gathering side of the house. This actually seems to me to be the central lesson of the disaster in Benghazi, Libya.

[snip]

Benghazi showed the reason the United States needs clandestine intelligence officers in dangerous countries such as Libya. They’re in country, undercover, to collect the secrets that will keep U.S. citizens safe. That night, the United States needed to know what was going down in Benghazi, and in Cairo, Tunis and a half-dozen other capitals. Continue reading

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