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May 31, 2007

More Petraeus
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Colonel Boylan, General Petraeus’s spokesman, has once again responded to me regarding my post that for General Petraeus to be the primary evaluator of the “surge” represents poor management practices because of conflict of interest.

First, I will concede to the Colonel that Andrea Mitchell did in fact correct her report regarding the General’s meeting with Congress.  It was an oversight on my part.

However, that does not change the basic facts here.  The Colonel states that:

Part of my job is to correct inaccurate information such as stated on this site, in the media, and in the public domain.

Fine.  But what exactly was inaccurate about my first post to which the Colonel responded?  The main point was not to launch a personal attack or spread incorrect information.  The main point was that if this September report is so important.  If everything hinges on it.  And if that is the major decision point for Congress and the President, then we should have an outside evaluation in addition to the report by General Petraeus?  It’s just plain old common sense.  You don’t just have the person who is running the operation be the sole reporter.  When a corporation makes a major decision, such as an acquisition or merger, it hires lawyers, investment bankers and accountants, who act as a second set of eyes and deliver an outside evaluation.  It’s just good practice.

In terms of the Colonel’s argument that:

You should be aware that General Petraeus will not be the sole source of the assessment. This will be a joint assessment by the US Embassy in Baghdad and the Multi-National Force-Iraq. The two individuals who will report on the assessment are of course Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General Petraeus.

Well, Ambassador Crocker is still part of the group implementing the current policy. It doesn’t answer the fact that we need an outside assessment.

As for the Larry Korb op-ed.  The Colonel argues that it was only Korb’s opinion and not a fact.  Well, it seems pretty compelling to me.  Here is what Korb had to say and for full disclosure here is the op-ed from General Petraeus.  I’ll let readers judge for themselves.

On Sept. 26, 2004, about six weeks before the presidential election, in which the deteriorating situation in Iraq was an increasingly important issue, then Lt. Gen. Petraeus published a misleading commentary in the Washington Post. In that article, Petraeus, who was then in charge of training Iraqi security forces, spoke glowingly about the tangible progress that those forces were making under his tutelage. According to Petraeus, more than 200,000 Iraqis were performing a wide variety of security missions; training was on track and increasing in capacity; 45 Iraqi National Guard battalions and six regular Army battalions were conducting operations on a daily basis; and by the end of November 2004, six more regular Army battalions and six additional Intervention Force battalions would become operational.

Because Bush administration policy at that time was that "we will stand down when they stand up," this article, in effect, conveyed to the American electorate that the Iraqis were, indeed, standing up, and, therefore, there was light at the end of the tunnel for the Iraqi quagmire.

If Petraeus wrote on his own initiative, he was injecting himself improperly into a political campaign. If he was encouraged or even allowed to do this by his civilian superiors, he was allowing himself to be used for partisan political purposes.

The Colonel also argues that:

General Petraeus over the times he has been in Iraq has written op-eds on various topics in order to provide context to what is happening on the ground.

But actually I did a little research and was not able to find another op-ed in a major newspaper that General Petraeus has written in the past five years.  My search included more than 200 newspapers including almost all of the highest circulation papers in the country as well as most of the large circulation magazines.  If I missed something, I would ask the Colonel to correct me.  But as far as I can tell, the piece that came out six weeks before the 2004 election and conveniently reiterated the President’s talking points is the only one out there in a major U.S. newspaper.  This only reiterates Korb’s point.

Then there is this disturbing report in the LA Times, which again I ask the Colonel to respond to.

U.S. military leaders in Iraq are increasingly convinced that most of the broad political goals President Bush laid out early this year in his announcement of a troop buildup will not be met this summer and are seeking ways to redefine success. 

Finally, there is the question of Colonel Boylan’s job.  I recognize the fact that he works in public affairs.  But I thought it was poor form that he did not identify himself as Petraeus’s spokesman in the initial post.  For the sake of full disclosure this should have been made completely clear.  It gives a greater context to his comments. 


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Keep it up, Ilan. You're clearly onto something.

It does indeed seem as if President Bush and the military in Iraq are operating on two entirely different assumptions as to what we should consider progress. They cannot both be right. But they could both be wrong.

The record of this President saying things he feels he needs to as he seeks to move past the latest public relations emergency is too well established to inspire confidence that he wasn't doing just that in announcing expectations of visible progress toward settling disputes among the Iraqi factions in Baghdad. On the other hand progress in stitching together local accords in Anbar Province, while it would have been very good news three years ago, is now only relevant to a general internal settlement in Iraq if one assumes this progress to be one piece of a giant puzzle that will take many more years to assemble.

So what President Bush says is essential progress now he will have forgotten having said by September, while what the military sees as progress is so only in the context of an open-ended American commitment in Iraq that everyone knows the country will not support. In other words, whether Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Crocker have an "outside audit" of their performance come September is pretty much entirely beside the point. What Petraeus can achieve cannot produce the result in Iraq we seek, which is a stable Iraqi government established at acceptable cost to the United States. This will be no more true in September than it was in February.

"But I thought it was poor form that he did not identify himself as Petraeus’s spokesman in the initial post. For the sake of full disclosure this should have been made completely clear. It gives a greater context to his comments."

Perhaps he assumed that someone who arrogates onto himself the role of critic of King David's military policy would recognize a fairly well-known O-6 who speaks on behalf of the person you're criticizing. Just a hunch?

Or perhaps he was simply considering an earlier op-ed that made the same point that you made a few days later by Larry Korb, and he got confused and forgot to introduce himself.

Looking beyond op-eds, certainly one might make a long read KD's body of work, such as his phd thesis, "The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam: A Study of Military Influence and the Use of Force in the Post-Vietnam Era," the most recent COIN manual (FM 3-24), his recent open letter to troops concerning torture/abuse of enemies or civilians, or anything listed at his most recent CONUS command (Leavenworth).

A quick search there found some real pearls, including an interview he gave shortly after leaving the MNF training mission of the IA (

There's also the splendid work by his faithful staffers. COL H.R. McMaster might strike the right note herein with his "Dereliction of Duty." See also the stuff of COLs Michael Meese, Peter Mansoor, LTC Douglas Ollivant, LTC David Kilcullen (Australian Army, "Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency" ), and the NWC's Ahmed Hashim.

Much of this work can be summarized at

Now, I'm not a PAO (infantry). I'm no longer even in Iraq (full disclosure would reveal that I was a NCO who inherited his MTT gospel while in Anbar until October). But I knew exactly who these COLs and LTGs were, where I could find their writings, and, perhaps most important, how their public writings inform the current military optempo in OIF.

This submission isn't meant to deny that it's prudent to have an outside evaluation of the so-called "Surge" and its effects on further operations (which, one might suggest, could be done by that investigative, decision-making part of the federal government called "Congress") , nor that it's wise to rely solely on the words of one man or one staff.

But it might be a tad difficult to find many people with advanced degrees from elite universities who also have some working combat experience in Iraq (humility prevents me from mentioning a certain NCO present who might fit the bill but, alas, is recovering from battlefield injury and won't likely receive a Senate subpoena).

If the heretofore unmentioned NCO is unavailable, one might task the policy director of the National Security Network to spin the Rolodex and find someone else up to the job, such as CPT Phil Carter of a linked site.


Mai Culpa. Please let me introduce myself, COL Steve Boylan Spokesman and Public Affairs Officer for GEN Petraeus. I have completed over two years of being a spokesman in Iraq. Almost two years as the Coalition Press Information Center Director and now in my role as GEN Petraeus’ spokesman, which I returned with him from Fort Leavenworth. I thought that using my real name vs a screen name would have been enough, as you can find me quoted and resourced on line easily.

So there is no confusion, let me define inaccurate, so we can work from a common base. There are three things that can be considered inaccuracies. The first is easy, facts are facts and if they are wrong then that is in accurate. 2+2=5, this is inaccurate.

Second, placing quotes out of context is inaccurate, usually the writer is using it for their own gains to make a point, when in fact they know what he has said and when they said it, but if carried in that situation does not help their argument. The general said all “troops are redeploying” tomorrow, when the general said to the 1-34 IN that “your troops are redeploying tomorrow”, this is inaccurate.

Third, mischaracterizing a situation would also be inaccurate. Saying “The soldier turned and cold bloodedly shot the man” when the situation is the soldier shot the man who was about to throw a grenade into the vehicle, this would be inaccurate.

So what is inaccurate about your fist post. One you have acknowledged, but there are three things in particular, the general “injecting” himself into politics, your characterization of briefings to congress, and military leaders moving the goal posts.

First you and Korb both say that the piece written by Gen Petraeus was “misleading” when in fact the article is a series of facts about the conditions on the ground at that time. Everything from Iraqi’s stepping up to lead forces, to conducting operations, to dying as they defend their country. The same command that he writes about has now assisted the Iraqi Government in establishing the security forces well beyond the capabilities it had then. The Ministries of Defense and Interior, which MNSTC-I supports, now have budgets and budget cycles; divisions not brigades; they are establishing themselves as the most professional organizations in the government. They are not perfect, in some cases they are corrupt, but then look at Chicago, New York or almost any major city in the US at some point in history. They have had corruption and they worked through it.

LTG Dempsey, the outgoing commander of MNSTC-I will be briefing congress later this month. I encourage you to watch or read his assessment to see how far the Iraqi’s have come and how far they have to go. If GEN Petraeus’ piece was off, they would not have been able to support the organizations into what they are now.

Your next concern was how many op-eds he has published. I was able to find three letters to the editors that were published over the last five years. The one you refer to and two others one in the weekly standard and The Record in Bergen County New Jersey. He has also written a number of other items that have shown up in the media, like his letters to the troops and the Iraqi people, which were picked up by newspapers and on line resources. Which this demonstrates an important point. The general can write any number of letters to the editor, whether they are published or not, is up to the papers editors, not the general.

Interestingly you feel that by having one op-ed published in one newspaper is somehow supporting a political position is a false assumption on your part. Now, if that letter had been published in every major and every regional paper in the U.S. at the time, then you might have something, but a one-time letter without a series of follow ups just doesn’t equal what you and Korb propose.

Finally, comparing the GEN to an employee is like calling a CEO a private. This is gross misrepresentation of his position and the requirements placed before him. The general, like any CEO will provide to the Board of Directors, will brief his assessment in this case to the President, to Congress and more importantly to the American public. Specifically what he said he would do is “that in early September, Ambassador Ryan Crocker and I would provide an assessment of the situation in Iraq with respect to our mission and offer recommendations on the way ahead.“ He added that “We will be forthright in that assessment, as I believe I have been with you today.” This is from his opening statement to congress which he read to the pentagon press corps back in April. ( Although I am not sure how Julian Barnes article is disturbing, I can say that we have been saying all along that September will be an assessment with recommendations.

However, since we live in a world of good and evil, there are others that will be predetermined to have us provide a bleak assessment of the future. If you are disturbed by the fact that the media is perhaps self correcting the misperception they initially played out to the public as to what we will be briefing in September, because we have not changed what we are said about this in any major fashion. We have one addition to commenting on what we believe our enemy’s will try to do. We expect that al Qaeda, foreign fighters, the fractured elements of JAM, and others will certainly use this summer as a time to increase attacks on coalition forces, Iraqi Forces and the Iraqi people. They are focused on the American public’s desire to have its men and women come home. We are seeing the Iraqi’s start to step up and say that this is unacceptable in places like al Anbar, part of Baghdad, and al Amiryah, and there could be more.

But, you bring up a valid point, trust but verify is not a bad practice. Over the past three months we have had a number of congressmen on the ground from both parties and all perspectives on the war. We expect this to continue through the summer. We expect that the GAO will be here, per directions in the supplemental. We provide pretty much unlimited access to the media, in fact, we have more units requesting them to come to their locations than there are reporters to cover the stories. We will also provide information directly to the public, just as I am doing now, or how we provide information on youtube or on our own website.

GEN Petraeus has said that the operational environment in Iraq is the most complex and challenging he has ever seen -- much more complex than it was when he left last in September 2005, and vastly more complex than what I recall in Central America, Haiti and the Balkans in previous tours in those locations. He has brought a number of people in, as mentioned by SoldiernolongerinIraq. I mentioned this in my last post and will say it again, this is an assessment made by commanders and leaders who have now spent years in Iraq on multiple tours. They will provide their assessment to GEN Petraeus and he will present this to the President, the Congress and American people in September.

Colonel Boylan,

Thank you for your service. If you are still visiting this thread, I would be grateful if you could answer three questions:

1. What are the military benchmarks in relation to which progress will be assessed in September?
2. Will security be assessed in all of Iraq or only in the areas affected by the "surge"?
3. Will there be separate assessments by the Ambassador and the General or a single joint view?


I appreciate your thoughts. To quickly answer your questions:

Overall this will be a joint assessement by Amb Crocker and Gen Petraeus. It will most likely focus on four broad areas of Security, Governance, Economics, and Rule of Law. A lot of things fit up under those headings and many of them are classified as to the readiness of forces, etc in the security area. This will be focused on Iraq. Not just Baghdad as the media reports, but Iraq as a whole. The reason is that there is more to Iraq than just Baghdad.

The overall assessment is still being addressed and we won't be publishing specifics on what we are looking at throughout Iraq. That would be giving away too much information to our enemy who then could much more easily try to disrupt and make look worse on the ground than what it would actually be.

Colonel Boylan,

Thank you very much for your response. I certainly understand the need to keep certain criteria for assessment closely held. If I may make a suggestion about the four broad areas you envision: the rule of law and governance are in principle the same thing, although their nature and effectiveness can of course be limited by the security situation and other factors. I wonder if it would help bring into focus what has changed or not changed in the last year to consider instead treating regional and central governance in separate sections, with the rule of law part of both. But you must be at an early stage in deciding how you will organize the report and I have no doubt you will say what needs to be said.









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