Retired Four-Star General David Petraeus is making headlines following his first public appearance since he resigned as head of the CIA last year amid revelations that he carried on an extramarital affair.
"Needless to say, I join you keenly aware that I am regarded in a different light now than I was a year ago," Petraeus said to a crowd of mostly US veterans Tuesday night. "I am also keenly aware that the reason for my recent journey was my own doing. So please allow me to begin my remarks this evening by reiterating how deeply I regret — and apologize for — the circumstances that led to my resignation from the CIA and caused such pain for my family, friends and supporters."
As his remarks continued, however, Petraeus—who commanded the US military in both Iraq and Afghanistan during his tenure as General—made no such apologies for the killing of civilians in those countries by his forces, the torture of detainees that occurred under his command, nor did he address the ultimate and enduring violence and political instability that remains the dominant reality in Iraq and Afghanistan even as he continues to accept credit for "successfully" turning the wars around with his "counter-insurgency policies."
As journalist Robert Parry documents, the "fawning media" made a hero of Petraeus, but the historical record of his performance paints another picture entirely.
"Petraeus actually has a less than sterling record of military success," wrote Parry at the time of his resignation from the CIA in 2012. "His supposedly successful “surge” in Iraq was more a public relations success than a change in the strategic trajectory toward ultimate U.S. failure there."
And journalist Eric Margolis concurred, writing that Petraeus' failures weren't his personal ones, but those he made leading the most powerful military force on the planet during perhaps the most ignoble era of its bloody history:
Petraeus and his fellow generals used every weapon in the US arsenal against Iraq’s eleven resistance groups (deceptively misnamed “al-Qaida” by Washington), including the mass ethnic cleansing of two million Sunni Iraqis, death squads, torture, and brutal reprisals.
UN officials assert that some 500,000 Iraqis, mostly children, died due to the US-led blockade under Saddam Hussein. At least another half million died from the US 2003 invasion until 2011. Yet after all this, the US forces were forced pull out of Iraq at the end of what Saddam Hussein vowed would be the “Mother of All Battles.”
Cost of Iraq: $1.6-2.4 trillion; almost 5,000 US soldiers dead, 35,000 seriously wounded. Some triumph. America has yet to accept the painful fact that while it won all the tactical engagements in Iraq, it lost the bigger war.
Petraeus was then sent to work his magic in Afghanistan before returning to Washington to head CIA. There, the brainy general, who had a knack for self-promotion and public relations, tried again to crush the Pashtun resistance by massive bombardments, billions in high tech gear, reprisals that wiped out entire villages, search and destroy missions. Torture and executions were as common as during the Soviet occupation.
Examining the Petraeus record further, Parry continued his analysis by upending the myth that "the surge" in Iraq was somehow a success at all.
The reality regarding the Iraq “surge” in 2007 was that much of the reduction in violence in Iraq derived from policies of Petraeus’s predecessors, including the implementation of the so-called Sunni Awakening which involved paying off Sunni tribal leaders to turn against al-Qaeda extremists and the killing of al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Sectarian violence also had led to a de facto separation of Sunnis and Shiites and thus a natural burning-out of the civil strife. All these developments occurred in 2006 before President Bush ordered the “surge” in 2007 and put Petraeus in charge.
The “surge” actually led to a spike in violence in Iraq before the other factors contributed to a gradual reduction. Nevertheless, Official Washington’s conventional wisdom was framed around the “successful surge” credited to President Bush, Gen. Petraeus and the neocons.
Though nearly 1,000 U.S. soldiers died during the “surge,” its primary effect was to enable Bush and the other Iraq War architects to leave office without the legacy of a clear-cut military defeat hung around their necks. At the end of 2011, the U.S. military left Iraq with little to show for Bush’s investment of blood and treasure.
And, as former CIA analyst Ray McGovern adds:
The misleading, neo-con-driven narrative of the surge - and the media's brain-dead depiction of it as a smashing success - had consequences that went far beyond the  presidential campaign. The myth of the "successful surge" elevated Petraeus to the hero status that he now enjoys.
The stage was set for pushing for another surge-this time in Afghanistan. And President Obama, still remembering the stinging attacks on him for his original criticism of the Iraq surge, bent to the political pressures from the neocons and the military brass.
The President tripled the number of U.S. troops there, hoping that would appease Petraeus and his Pentagon allies, including Secretary Gates who had been retained by Obama in a gesture of bipartisanship toward the Republicans.
Petreaus is unique in that he served as a military commander during two ongoing wars before being put in charge of the clandestine operations of the Central Intelligence Agency. Only time will tell if he will ever feel it necessary to acknowledge the death, pain, and destruction that followed from the orders he gave or the deadly role he's played in one of the darkest times of US foreign policy.