If it weren't for the stripes on his uniform, one could be forgiven for mistaking General David Petraeus for a USAID official, or foreign service officer. While military operations took up a sizable portion of his talk at the Center for a New American Security, he portrayed the counterinsurgency mission in Afghanistan as the task of more than just his soldiers, but of the entirety of the federal government.
The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 By Thomas E. Ricks (Penguin Press, 394 pp., $27.95) I. FROM CENTRALITY TO banality: perhaps no other event in modern American history has gone from being contentious to being forgotten as quickly as the war in Iraq. Remember the war? It consumed a trillion American dollars, devoured a hundred thousand Iraqi lives, squandered a country’s reputation, and destroyed an American presidency.
I am sweating through my abaya as I drive to meet the sheik. It is a hot afternoon in Sana'a, and the sun beats down through an arid blue sky. Wispy pink and blue plastic bags that earlier held an afternoon's worth of the narcotic qat leaf float over the congested streets like kites, and children run up to cars paused at intersections, hawking everything from full flatware sets to the tiny perfume samples one might rip from an ad in a fashion magazine. The university I'm heading for sits on a hillside on the outskirts of town, on land donated by the government in the 1990s.
In the spring of 2007, long before Sarah Palin became a feminist icon, before Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers reared their unreconstructed heads, before Hillary Clinton ever questioned his readiness to be president, Barack Obama's greatest nemesis was a 29-year-old paralegal named Joe Anthony. Anthony had attracted tens of thousands of fans to a MySpace page he'd set up for Obama—a testament to the legions of new voters the candidate was inspiring. But, back in Chicago, all Anthony's site inspired was indigestion.
On his first day in office, President Barack Obama will head to the situation room for a video conference with his most important commander, General David Petraeus. If the conversation is chilly, it is not just the awkwardness of virtual chatting. Obama and Petraeus have a history. While Obama has called for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq, Petraeus oversaw the deployment of more than 30,000 additional troops. To win support from the left, Obama postured as a skeptic of the general's Iraq strategy during congressional hearings.
Sitting in the Senate Foreign Services hearing with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, it's striking how much more downbeat it is than the hearings last September -- the press hasn't filled its reserved seats, Code Pink is muted, the Republican senators aren't wasting too much breath defending Petraeus or Bush, and even John Kerry's and Joe Biden's speeches lack passion. The whole hearing just doesn't feel very urgent. Remember when David Petraeus was everything? When the course of Iraq and the two parties' political prospects seemed to hinge on what he could do?
Today the presidential campaign will be largely defined by the testimony of Iraq commander David Petraeus. Is it just me or is his typical gravitas undermined by the sight of (the talented!) Dana Milbank just over his right shoulder as he testifies? More on Petraeus politics as the day unfolds. McCain just gave a standard we-cannot-fail opening spiel. Hillary speaks soon and Obama questions him midafternoon. --Michael Crowley
I've been thinking about my last Spine taking on Tony Judt's silly comparison of David Petraeus with Douglas MacArthur. I've just started reading David Halberstam's The Coldest Winter whose dramatis personae includes -- even centers around- - MacArthur. MacArthur was a fantasist. He had ideas about the Asian mind, set opinions about what the Chinese would and would not do, illusions about American destiny and his role in it. He did not respect the commander-in-chief, Harry Truman, but HST took no guff from anyone.
Joe Klein makes the essential point about Bush and Petraeus in a much more cogent fashion than I did last week: The nature of military leadership is congenital optimism; officers are trained to complete the mission, to refuse to countenance the possibility of failure. That focus is essential when you go to war, but it lacks perspective. That's why civilian leaders--the Commander in Chief--are there to set the mission, to change or abort it when necessary. The trouble is, George W. Bush's credibility on Iraq is nonexistent.
Over lunch I was reading today's Wall Street Journal op-ed by John McCain and Joe Lieberman. It's titled, "Listening to Petraeus," and it begins: Today, Gen. David Petraeus--commander of our forces in Iraq--returns to Washington to report on the war in Iraq and the new counterinsurgency strategy he has been implementing there. We hope that opponents of the war in Congress will listen carefully to the evidence that the U.S. military is at last making real and significant progress in its offensive against al Qaeda in Iraq. But... the op-ed was written before Petraeus's testimony.