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October 08, 2007

Bacevich on Petraeus
Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

Andrew Bacevich has a scathing analysis of General Petraeus's testimony in the American Conservative.  Bacevich is a conservative foreign policy realist who has been opposed to the war.  He served in the military for twenty years, retiring as a Colonel. This past May his son was killed in Iraq.   So it means something a little more than usual when he writes:

Instead of obliging the president and the Congress to confront this fundamental contradiction—are we or are we not at war?—he chose instead to let them off the hook.

Of course, if he had done otherwise—if he had asked, say, to expand the surge by adding yet another 50,000 troops—he would have distressed just about everyone back in Washington. He might have paid a considerable price career-wise. Certainly, he would have angered the JCS, antiwar Democrats, and waffling Republicans who want the war to go away. Even the president, Petraeus’s number-one fan, would have been surprised and embarrassed by such a request.

Yet the anger and embarrassment would have been salutary. A great political general doesn’t tell his masters what they want to hear. He tells them what they need to hear, thereby nudging them to make decisions that must be made if the nation’s interests are to be served. In this instance, Petraeus provided cover for them to evade their responsibilities.

Politically, it qualifies as a brilliant maneuver. The general’s relationships with official Washington remain intact. Yet he has broken faith with the soldiers he commands and the Army to which he has devoted his life. He has failed his country. History will not judge him kindly.

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Comments

Sympathetic though I am to much of Bacevich's critique of the political general, we've arrived at a truly desperate pass if we think that a combat commander is the one man to make civilian government leaders live up to their responsibilities.

Leave the executive branch aside for the moment. Members of four Congressional committees had Petraeus before them, available to discuss all the issues Bacevich raises or, alternately, to make clear that he, as a combat commander in one theater of operations, was not the right man to discuss them with. They chose to use the hearings to make "look-at-me" speeches -- Sen. Obama's, which used up nearly all his time, was particularly memorable as an effort to make the hearings about getting his own face on television -- or to ask rhetorical questions designed to advertise each lawmaker's support of or distance from President Bush.

A few legislators -- Sen. Warner, who is older than my own long-retired father, was one -- did better. But no group of Congressmen or Senators coordinated their questioning of Petraeus and Amb. Crocker to expose the details of critical tactical issues, nor did any address the President's habit of deferring in public to military commanders, of whom Petraeus is only the latest, on political questions relevant to the war in Iraq. Finally, I'm not aware that any of the dozens of Congressmen and Senators did at any point during the hearings last month suggest enlarging the army, or any of the other steps Bacevich suggests to bring the country fully into the war that the President insists is so vital to our nation's future.

I thought from the day of his appointment as ground commander in Iraq that Petraeus' enthusiasm for his counterinsurgency doctrine, and frustration at having had to watch while in subordinate command as officers senior to him mismanaged the Iraq war, likely blinded him to all the water that had passed under the bridge since he commanded the 101st Division around Mosul in 2003. What might have been possible had the insurgency been addressed properly right at the beginning just wasn't, and isn't, anymore. Petraeus should have seen that, and should have communicated that through his chain of command, before the surge ever started.

But that is a different critique that Bacevich makes. The one he makes demands things we should never expect of any military officer, particularly one commanding troops in the field. Generals can't make Congress, let alone the President, act on large questions of national policy. If elected officials are determined to avoid the questions only they can answer, the responsibility for that rests with them alone.

"Yet he has broken faith with the soldiers he commands and the Army to which he has devoted his life."

You mean...he BETRAYED them????

Wow. Congress should condemn this Bacevich person!

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