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.


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. It’s hard to do this intelligence collection — recruiting and running clandestine agents — when you’re operating from a quasi-public base, as seems to have been the case in Benghazi, and is certainly true in many others parts of the world.


But one resolution for the post-Petraeus CIA should be to put intelligence collection back in the driver’s seat at the agency. Maybe this will only be possible when the agency fully deploys a new network of deep-cover “platforms” that can hide CIA officers better than that embattled annex in Benghazi did. [my emphasis]

I think Ignatius is totally right. Petraeus responded to Benghazi by asking for more drones, rather than reapplying CIA to collecting information on the militias who ended up attacking us. But one of the lessons of Benghazi is we need to know who we’re dealing with–all the people, not just the people we’ve identified as bad guys, and not just the information we can collect from drones or (hahahaha!) email and social media.

There’s an additional intriguing criticism of Petraeus Ignatius alludes to. He comes as close as anyone has to suggesting CIA–David Petraeus’ CIA–was the entity training the militias to be more professional soldiers.

The CIA had a big base in Benghazi, with a half-dozen former military special forces assigned there as part of the “Global Response Staff.” These were the muscle-bound security guys known to flippant earlier generations of CIA case officers as “knuckle-draggers.” They were in Benghazi in such numbers in part because the CIA was trying to collect the shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles that had gone loose after the fall of Col. Moammar Gaddafi. They may also have been working with Libyan militias to help them become effective security forces. [my emphasis]

Given suggestions that the February 17 Brigade–one of the militia we would have been training–at least failed to prevent the attack if not allowed it to happen, the suggestion CIA conducted their training is really damning indeed.

After all, as Hastings notes, Petraeus’ training program in Iraq effectively armed Iraqi death squads. As Jim has tracked forever, Petraeus’ training program in Afghanistan ended up training those Afghan forces who are now killing NATO forces.

David Petraeus has a fairly consistent history of training sketchy men to be fairly dangerous troops. Increasingly of late, precisely those American-trained forces are the people killing Americans.

If, along with everything else, CIA trained some of the people who failed to protect and perhaps even attacked Americans in Benghazi, it would be the third time Petraeus’ training has backfired. Couple that with the failure to collect HUMINT on people we didn’t know were bad guys, and we got blindsided in Benghazi. And that’s just hitting some of the problems.

Ignatius is right: Benghazi teaches us CIA needs to go back to collecting information on what people–both identified enemies and relatively trusted friends–are doing. And until we get far better at doing that, we sure as hell better not be arming and training these people.

Because there’s an increasing history of Petraeus’ programs training the men who kill Americans.

69 replies
  1. orionatl says:

    now this stuff is getting to the heart of the matter.

    jim white has done great work helping people like me see the failure of training programs petraeus has been responsible for.

    this sex-and-something-else-we-think scandal has been great in wiping out discussion and evaluation of allen’s (and, by extension petraeus’) war management.

  2. bell says:

    this is a nice break from all the other petraeus reading of late.. getting down to the observation this guy has been an abject failure in so much, excluding his ability to brown nose his way to the top is a better read..

    …”American-trained forces are the people killing Americans.”
    they are the people killing a lot of innocent folks too, but it only counts if it is americans that are killed.. why is that? what is it in the american psyche that they can only be concerned about who is american and who isn’t? blame it on an ingrained sense of ethnocentricity in combo with the idea that it is the greatest country in the world i guess. one day this too will pass.

  3. eCAHNomics says:

    @Mary McCurnin: Some characterize Pet as the Last of the Neocons.

    That’s too simplistic but lends insight.

    O’s foreign policy is Soros’s (so he can make a killing on currency chaos) color (faux) revolutions, Zbiggie’s micronization of states to control them better (Balkans under Clinton was wet test), Zbiggie’s hatred of Russia, so containment at minimum or terriss attacks (Caucasus or old Islamic Sovietstans).

  4. Jim White says:

    And you know, as I pointed out on Twitter, they really should have known before they took on this generation of “training” miliitas to fight for our side that the whole thing came back to bite us in the ass after Reagan (with Dana Rohrabacher actually running over there to pick up a gun and fight alongside them) armed the mujahideen against the Soviets. You know, the movement where a guy named bin Laden was running one of the militias.

  5. eCAHNomics says:

    @Jim White: Situation is clarified mentally if you assign terriss to USG operatives, to perf jobs that are too scuzzy for CIA ops, mercenaries, etc. Has been true since KLA in Balkans. IOW, this foreign policy is already 3 decades old.

    U.S., in its imperial hubris thinks it can control these splinter religious extremist terriss. If one entity gets out of line, U.S. will employ another one to slaughter the “bad” one.

    Not saying it’s a good or winning tactic, just pointing out what the tactic is.

  6. ryan says:

    >it only counts if it is americans that are killed.. why is that?

    Because we can.

    I don’t mean that flippantly. I mean it as the corollary of ‘power corrupts’. Nations don’t worry about killing foreigners unless they have to. The public in smaller, wealthy but less powerful countries are not inherently more empathetic. They are constantly coming up against the limits of their own power, and that weakness expresses itself as empathy. We will continue to care little about civilian (or allied) casualties till the American century ends.

    I think COIN could work. In a context in which the lives of the civilian population were at par with the lives of our own troops. In other words, COIN could never be implemented successfully by the type of nation that would conceive of COIN.

  7. eCAHNomics says:

    @ryan: Figured out 3 decades ago that there are 2 As for most Qs.
    1. BC they can.
    2. BC they have to.

    2 is rarer than 1 for Oners.

  8. joanneleon says:

    It makes me wonder how some other high ranking military feel about it all too.

    I don’t know if this is the best example, but Gen. Allen can’t be the only one who feels this way:

    Asked if he could explain the increase in such treacherous attacks, the general replies, “Well, I’m mad as hell about them, to be honest with you. We’re going to go after this. It reverberates everywhere across the United States…We’re willing to sacrifice a lot for this campaign, but we’re not willing to be murdered for it.”

    Then there are the drone strikes. There is a lot of international pressure about the drone program — talk about war crimes. Increasingly bad publicity at home. Is it putting troops on the ground in more danger? Is it possible that the drone program managed by the CIA is more problematic than the one managed by the military? Conflicts between different branches of the military? (counting the CIA as a branch of the military in this case).

    And yet, Petraeus gets all the glory.

  9. allan says:

    But on the Newshour tonight, Jane Harman assured Gwen Ifill that
    the CIA under Petraeus was doing an excellent job, so all is well.
    (Not to get catty, but between her Botox and hair dye,
    Harman could pass as Dana Perino’s twin sister.)

  10. marksb says:

    Occurs to me that the fallen general can be used to take/deflect the blame for Benghazi if needed in Congress…as well as being a lovely shiny object. The whole thing is a shiny object: “Benghazi? That was so last month. Let’s gossip on the air about Captain America having sex under the desk with his biographer with the toned arms” (run clip from Daily Show).

  11. Gitcheegumee says:


    This Chris Floyd piece reflects much of your sentiment:

    Dead Enough: The Reality of the “Lesser Evil”
    4 days ago – Dead Enough: The Reality of the “Lesser Evil” … Dead enough not to disturb your victory dance in any way? Dead enough not to trouble the …

    Dead Enough: The Reality of the “Lesser Evil” | Thom Hartmann …
    http://www.thomhartmann.com › … › US Domestic Politics

    Fascinating to read about the CIA that, filibuster rules this, and the traitorus General Petraeus’s affair… while so many people continue to ignore …

    Caution: Extremely graphic and gritty.

  12. eCAHNomics says:

    @allan: Hey, there’s decades betw them. Female Rs are not allowed to be over age 35.

    Plus (and this is impt) R female talking pointers are req to go to the same hairdressers, clothes-consultants, and the same speech coaches. Or they are cloned, which might be cheaper.

    Can’t be outsourced to China, more’s the pity.

  13. Gitcheegumee says:


    Don’t forget that’s where they found Chandra Levy’s remains,also,Rock Creek that is.

    Well,we [posted at the same time,e-I am editing this update.

  14. klynn says:


    Thanks for sharing…

    EW, I just read a blurb stating Jane Harmon is being considered for heading CIA. Not good. At all. In fact, should she get recommended, this mess ends up making too much sense – in a bad way. I’m thinking of a case Abbe defended in the past that she had WAY too much involvement.

  15. ryan says:

    @Jim White: That’s a commonplace idea, but do you genuinely believe it? I’ve always found it a bit of a stretch. It was years before bin Laden had his “c’est la guerre entre nous” moment. I think al Qaeda’s focus on the US developed out of a particular set of circumstances that had little to do with the Russian Afghan war. Bin Laden went back to Afghanistan as a refuge of last resort, and there were no Afghans among the 9/11 attackers.

  16. Michael Murry says:

    “Because there’s an increasing history of Petraeus’ programs training the men who kill Americans.”

    Not exactly news to those who follow these “Vietnamization” debacles. As military historian Martin Van Creveld said years ago during General Dave’s “Iraqification” of the Iraqi Shiite death squads: “The only thing the Americans can train the Iraqis to do is how to kill Americans. How stupid can they be?”

    General David Petraeus: a consummate combination of Parkinson’s Law and the Peter Principle.

  17. Brindle says:

    Petraeus escorted to Kelley party by 28 motorcycles? I could see 6-8 or so but 28?

    —“Their parties, though, were the talk of the town. In February 2010, a gossip column in The Tampa Bay Times reported that Mr. Petraeus and his wife arrived escorted by 28 police officers on motorcycles to a pirate-themed party at the Kelleys’ home, to mark Tampa’s Gasparilla Pirate Fest, an annual event.”

    …”When foreign dignitaries visited Central Command, the command’s generals could count on the Kelleys to host a dinner in the dignitaries’ honor. Even as news of Ms. Kelley’s connection to the emerging Petraeus scandal began spreading Sunday evening, the deputy commander of the Central Command, Vice Adm. Robert S. Harward, was attending a party at her bayside home.”


  18. Valley Girl says:


    Kevin’s info is always interesting, but he needs to learn how to write in a more compelling fashion. Because it’s really hard to slog through his writing. I said this to an FDL editor, but got no response. He’s getting in his own way, and I find that regrettable.


  19. Peterr says:

    Harmon for CIA? Please.

    But as long as people are floating women’s names for head of the CIA, how about Valerie Plame?

  20. Ronald says:

    Marcie wrote:
    Because there’s an increasing history of Petraeus’ programs training the men who kill Americans.

    Why should we think such a thing is NOT deliberate, that killing the ambassador was a mistake?
    A lot of the initial data especially regarding the US response makes sense if “our” militias were behind the attack (tho we’d have to know more of the context to opine whether the US actually wanted Chris Stevens killed).
    The Cheney Bush problem in Iraq was that there was no insurgency until we started it by training, funding and directing death squads on both sides. Without an insurgency we’d have had no reason to stay in Iraq.
    As Marcie mentioned, Petraeus was involved in training Iraqi death squads.
    As he had been doing in Afghanistan.

  21. eCAHNomics says:

    @Ronald: Stevens murder was deliberate burn of CIA op. He was recruiting the worst of the worst terriss to send to Syria. A triple cross. Don’t know why yet.

  22. miguel cervantes says:

    Actually the Irregular Warfare Working Group, identified practically every Salafi faction in Libya, the Administration would just rather not know ir. Because they worked with Bel Hadj, with Bin Qumu, in order to oust Kaddaffi

  23. eCAHNomics says:

    @Peterr: Make do, not due, but I have the monopoly on brain farts, so not personally intended.

    I don’t give a ff who has a grip on reality; interested in figuring it out who it is, and rejecting others.

    Also not interested in coddling fools, left or right.

  24. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    The Reuters-India article linked to on this or previous thread includes an intriguing bit about atty Abbe Lowell, describing him as ‘friend of the family’ of Jill? Hostess With The Mostess of Tampa. As luck would have it, she speaks Arabic. Her parents owned restaurants, so how is it that Abbe is a family friend?

    And Petraeus and Allen both wrote letters on behalf of her twin sister, who was fighting Grayson Wolfe over custody rights…? According to TPM, Grayson is a principle in Akkadian Private Ventures. (IIRC, way back in the Bronze Age, old Akkadian was an exalted court language.) Grayson Wolfe helped ‘open Iraq to private investment’ as a member of GWBush’s Iraq Provisional Authority, working with ‘Ministries of Finance, Trade, and Oil.
    According to TPM, Wolfe was in Iraq 2004. At what point was Chalabi the Minister of Oil…?

    So Petraeus and Allen might have encountered Wolfe at some point around 2004, and since? (Not a rhetorical question; I have no effing clue. Nor do I know whether it is significant.)


    Meanwhile, Petraeus seems to have been a big proponent of drones. Which probably is a good strategy as long as you have them, but your opponents (or questionable so-called allies) do not.
    Surprise!! Pakistan now has drones, booyah!! http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/nov/13/drones-pakistan

    To summarize:
    Abbe Lowell is a family friend.
    The ex-brother in law helped open Iraq, including the oil sector, to ‘foreign investment’. (Golly, why do planeloads of US hundred dollar bills, plus the Oil Ministry being attacked and all of the telecomm and data lines co-opted by Iran come to mind…?)
    Oh, and the Pakistani’s now are working on the very type of ultra-advantage weaponry that Petraeus oversaw.

    Other than that, nothing to see here, move right along…

  25. orionatl says:


    re: “akkadian private ventures”

    the accadians were a city and people north of babylonia.

    they were very warlike.

    for your reference and thought

    from a 19th century english poet:


    the accadians came down

    like a wolf on the fold.

    their banners were all burnished

    with silver and gold. ”

    i suspect keats,

    maybe shelley.

    i’ll check.

    in any event, the name suggests rapacious behavior.

    i’d guess rapacious behavior was what occured.

  26. Higgs Bosun's Mate says:

    The CIA has been opposed to the tedious business of gathering HUMINT for decades. The result is that they’re one of the most inept, clueless, and failure-prone intelligence agencies in the world. They’ve tried to avoid HUMINT with everything from satellite surveillance (Including massive eavesdropping on foreign telephone exchanges) to hoovering up every last document they can. The CIA practices its most finely honed tradecraft in the halls of Congress and does its best to avoid relating to the locals elsewhere in the world. Petraeus fit right in.

  27. Kathleen says:

    @Mary McCurnin: Sure seems like this was the October Surprise that ended up being the November surprise after the election. So will we find out whether Paula Kranz Broadwell or Jill Khawam Kelley were linked to foreign intelligence operations

  28. P J Evans says:

    That one is ‘Assyrians’. Akkadians were, I think, closer to ‘Ur of the Chaldees’.

    Has anyone besides Pecunium noticed that Broadwell was sitting in on meetings she wasn’t cleared for?

  29. orionatl says:

    @P J Evans:

    thanks, pj.

    i woke up this morning thinking “akkadians”? or was that “assyrians”?

    now i know for sure. so much for hyper-cleverness on my part.

    the poet was lord byron. the poem:

    The Destruction of Sennacherib


       The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
    And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
    And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
    When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

  30. Frank33 says:

    @angry bitter drunk:
    We need plenty of redundancy, trying to follow this circus of misfits.

    To those who sympathize with Holly and her pain, it is not necessary. Holly has exploited the military in her own way. Stealing the free time of soldiers during Holidays might be a small thing. Was she so stupid that she did not know that.

    We had to go over to his house during the holidays and make nice with his wife, Holly. We had to eat her cookies and sip her tea while we exchanged bullshit pleasantries, calling her “ma’am” and always being mindful of our language. We had to compliment her cooking and smile with our whitened teeth. We had to don our dress blues and sing Christmas carols. We always made nice—and this was on our supposedly free time.

    Holly is reportedly “hurt” and “angry”. But Holly is part of the lies and she is profiting from the endless wars.

  31. orionatl says:

    the akkadian empire was centered around the city of akkad in iraq.

    the empire pre-dated the city and empire of babylon (~1600 b.c.). the akkadian language was adopted as the language of babylon.

  32. Jeff Kaye says:

    @Jim White: One small correction – it was Jimmy Carter who first started the arming of the mujahideen, and initially, it was not directly against the Soviets, who had not invaded Afghanistan at that point, but against the Soviet-backed Afghan government.

    Q: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs [“From the Shadows”], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?

    Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.


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