As the Senate sent legislation to the White House that calls for troop withdrawal timelines, General David Petraeus, top U.S. commander in Iraq, said that the war will require “an enormous commitment” by the United States.  

When asked by reporters what kind of troop commitment would be required to get the job done, Petraeus answered, “I wouldn’t try to truly anticipate what [that] level might be some years down the road.”  Petraeus noted historic case studies of long-term U.S. peacekeeping missions, and added that Iraq is “an endeavor that clearly is going to require enormous commitment and commitment over time.”

Petraeus has revealed himself to be a follower in the fine tradition of other four-star officers who have served under the Bush administration–a mouthpiece who’s perfectly willing to polly cracker whatever message the regime wants injected into the echo chamber.

The Very Model of a Modern Four-Star General

Petraeus seems to have mastered the fine neoconservative art of talking out both sides of his mouth.  He gave the press new details on the “exceedingly unhelpful activities” by Iran, revealing links to the Khazaali terrorist network allegedly responsible for the abduction and murder of five U.S. soldiers in Karbala in January. He said the Khazaali network “is directly connected to the Iranian Quds Force, received money, training, arms, ammunition and at some points in time even advice and assistance and direction.”

But then, incredibly, he said there is no direct evidence that Iranians were directly involved in the Karbala incident.

Of the troop increase, Petraeus said “I think there is the very real possibility that there’s going to be more combat action and that, therefore, there could be more casualties,” Petraeus said. “When you’re expanding your forces’ presence, when you are going into areas that have been very lightly populated with coalition forces in the past, that there is going to be more action.”

But he also said that “My sense is that there would be an increase in sectarian violence, a resumption of sectarian violence, were the presence of our forces and Iraqi forces at that time to be reduced.”

Yeah, Petraeus has the Rovewellian patter down pat all right: cover all outrageous assertions with plausible disclaimers and hedge all bets: things may be bad if we go with our plan but they may be worse if we don’t go with it.  

Wittingly or not, Petraeus has also offered himself up as the escalation strategy poster boy.  The administration’s pro-escalation argument goes that the Senate’s confirmation Petraeus as the U.S. commander in Iraq was a de facto endorsement of the escalation plan.  That’s nonsense on several counts.  Patreaus didn’t propose the escalation plan; Bill Kristol’s neoconservative cronies Fred Kagan and Jack Keane proposed it.  Petraeus was, obviously, receptive to Mr. Bush’s way forward of choice, or Bush wouldn’t have nominated him for the four-star Iraq post.  But whatever Petraeus really thinks of the escalation strategy (he’s rumored to have said he estimates it has a one in four chance of succeeding), it’s not his prerogative to dictate foreign policy, even if he’s the head of a regional unified command.  

I don’t envy Petraeus his job, but I’m not at all comfortable with the way he’s going about it.  It’s starting to look like he’s putting more effort into spinning the war than winning it.  That little propaganda stunt he stage managed with John McCain and Lindsey Graham and a hundred of their best heavily armed friends going on a shopping spree in an outdoor market in Baghdad was downright embarrassing.  

Mr. Bush has stated he has no intention of withdrawing troops from Iraq during his tenure, and Petraeus seems determined to create conditions that give the boss what he wants.  

At this point in our Iraq misadventure, anything Petraeus or any other active duty general or admiral has to say is moot.  To date, everything we’ve heard from the folks with stars on their collars has been administration serving double talk, and Petraeus is beginning to sound just like his predecessors.  

Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling aptly describes today’s general and flag officer community in a recent Armed Forces Journal article titled “A Failure in Generalship.”

While the physical courage of America’s generals is not in doubt, there is less certainty regarding their moral courage. In almost surreal language, professional military men blame their recent lack of candor on the intimidating management style of their civilian masters. Now that the public is immediately concerned with the crisis in Iraq, some of our generals are finding their voices. They may have waited too long…

… Neither the executive branch nor the services themselves are likely to remedy the shortcomings in America’s general officer corps. Indeed, the tendency of the executive branch to seek out mild-mannered team players to serve as senior generals is part of the problem. The services themselves are equally to blame. The system that produces our generals does little to reward creativity and moral courage. Officers rise to flag rank by following remarkably similar career patterns. Senior generals, both active and retired, are the most important figures in determining an officer’s potential for flag rank. The views of subordinates and peers play no role in an officer’s advancement; to move up he must only please his superiors. In a system in which senior officers select for promotion those like themselves, there are powerful incentives for conformity. It is unreasonable to expect that an officer who spends 25 years conforming to institutional expectations will emerge as an innovator in his late forties.

The future of our Iraq involvement lies in the current struggle between Mr. Bush and Congress over war funding and timelines.  Mr. Bush says he won’t back down.  Here’s hoping Congress won’t either.  I don’t know what Democratic congressional leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi plan to do when and if Bush vetoes the spending bill, but I’m ready to support a draconian measure.  

If Congress responds to a veto by saying, fine, then we’ll cut off all future funding and you, Mr. President, can use what’s left in the money pipeline to bring our troops home right now, that will be just fine by me.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia.  Read his commentaries at Pen and Sword.

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