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Thinking About Petraeus

I don't know him personally, and there have always been elements of his personality and his performance that did not enthuse me. In the early days of Iraq, I believe that he overstated the success of his mission to train local police forces in Mosul. And as Angleton mentions in our recent conversation, General Petraeus always paid a great deal of attention to his public image. I was always told that he went around with several public affairs officers who could explain to inquiring journalists what was "really" going on.

In this, as in so many other ways, I'm hopelessly oldmannish. I want my generals to spend their time defeating our enemies and protecting our guys, not polishing their images, and decidedly not spending many hours on email.

I take a dim view of adultery, too, in case you were wondering. Yes, I know it's very popular, I know it's in our DNA. I've read the Old Testament. And yes, I know "man is more inclined to do evil than to do good," Machiavelli's terse summary of the human condition. But I also know that virtue is possible, and I want my leaders to be virtuous. I think that winning is the most important thing, and if you win you don't need to brainwash the observers. The victory speaks for itself.

Which brings us to the whole discussion of the "surge." I have always said that the surge was not a strategic breakthrough, but rather the application of tried-and-true principles regarding "revolutionary wars." According to those principles, the outcome of such wars is determined by the people, that is to say, the local population. They provide both the information and the critical mass to one side or the other, thereby determining who wins and who loses. Their dilemma is that they do not wish to be involved in the conflict at all. Preferring to remain neutral, they abstain as long as possible and only throw their weight at the very last possible moment to what they believe to be the winning side. In Iraq, that moment came first in Anbar Province, where the locals became convinced that the Marines could not be defeated and that the Marines were not going away.

And no, contrary to what some are saying, Anbar was not won by bribes. It was bullets. The money came afterwards.

Notice, by the way, that just a year before the Marines won in Anbar, the head of Marine Intelligence in the province glumly assessed that they had lost, and that they could not win. Which reinforces another of my core beliefs: you never know, life is full of surprises, and the only thing to do is keep fighting.