Fog Facts: Petraeus' Fog of War
General Petraeus is being promoted. Now in charge of the war in Iraq, he will take charge of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Here's a quick summary of the media's opinion of the man, as taken from Wikipedia:
"Time has named Petraeus one of the 100 most influential leaders and revolutionaries of 2007 as well as one of its four runners up for Time Person of the Year. He was also named the second most influential American conservative by The Daily Telegraph as well as The Daily Telegraph's 2007 Man of the Year, and "America's most respected soldier" by Der Spiegel in 2008. In 2005, Petraeus was selected as one of America's top leaders by US News and World Report."
Here are the facts.
Petraeus' primary job in Iraq was to train Iraq's police and army. So that they could stand up and we could stand down.
The facts speak for themselves. They can't stand up and we haven't stood down.
No matter how often people say he's brilliant and how many charts he brings to Senate hearings, the bottom line is that his efforts failed completely.
He went back to the US to rewrite the army's counter-insurgency manual.
It's available on line, at www.npr.org/documents/2008/may/counterinsurgency_manual.pdf or at www.cfr.org/publication/12257 or you can buy it on Amazon. It's clear, clean, well-written and makes a lot of sense.
So it is even more of a shame that neither anybody on the Senate committees that questioned him nor anybody in the media seems to have read it. The most salient idea is the force ratio that's called for. Twenty to twenty-five soldiers for every 1000 in the population. Which is a peculiar way to say a bare minimum of 1:50. It is also the same force ratio that was called for in the old counter-insurgency manual.
Iraq's population is 27,500,000. That means, according to both the new and the old counter-insurgency manuals, according to General Petraeus himself, that a successful operation in Iraq requires a minimum of 550,000 troops.
Over half a million pairs of boots on the ground.
Why then, would he eagerly take command of "the surge," which brought troops levels up to merely 169,000 troops? About 381,000 short of the minimum. Half a million soldiers short of the more ideal ratio 25:1,000.
The goal of the surge was: (1) to bring stability so that, (2) Iraqi political progress could be made and (3) Iraq's police and armed forces could stand up! So that we could stand down!
The current level of conflict shows that Petraeus and "the surge" failed to bring stability. No significant political progress has been made. The recent operation in Basra, in which Iraqi troops refused to fight, deserted, or went over to the other side, shows that once again Petraeus failed at the same task he'd failed at initially.
What was the result, for him, of his clear cut second round of failures? Another promotion.
That explains why he would take a job that his own numbers said must fail, publicly pretend that it could succeed, and tell the Senate that it was sort of, kind of like, maybe succeeding. Because it didn't matter if it succeed or failed. He was going to move on up.
It is widely presumed that the US failed to plan for an insurgency because the people at the top, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et al, didn't think there'd be one. Anyone who said there might be, like General Shinsheki, was moved out of the way, demoted, or dismissed.
But by the time Petraeus went back -- promoted upwards based on his initial failure -- there was no doubt that there was an insurgency. There, at hand, was the text book on how to fight one, written by the man himself. So why put in just a third of the troops needed to do the job?
Presuming that they're rational, not just loony toons, there was, and is, no intent to "win" in Iraq.
The intent was to create a political situation in which we would stay, month by incremental month, until Bush was gone. Then someone else would have to withdraw.
Bush will then commit the propaganda mill he's creating in the guise of a presidential library into pounding out the myth that had we stayed his course, we would have won, and his successor was responsible for the defeat. Plenty of others will join in. A fair number of people will believe it. As they currently believe the media and the hippies lost Vietnam. Which they did not. Bad policy, bad strategy, bad tactics, and a ferocious commitment of an enemy fighting on their home territory caused the US to lose that war.
This is important, not merely academic, because it is framing the debate.
If anyone -- like John McCain, George Bush, David Petraeus, anyone -- speaks of victory in Iraq, winning in Iraq, or the like, we should take out the counter-insurgency manual and wave it in their faces. "Here, the manual says you need half a million troops. Where are you going to get them? What will they cost? Or haven't you read the manual?"
And please, if anyone knows a Senator, actually gives one enough cash, that they will actually listen to you, would please pass this on. So that the next time Petraeus testifies before Congress -- say, at his confirmation hearing for his next command, Chief of Centcom -- they can ask him: "You failed in your task of training Iraqi troops and police. When you went back and your subordinates were in charge of training Iraqi troops and police, you failed again. Now you will be in charge of two wars in which the key to success is training troops and police so that they can care for themselves. What will you do different so that you will succeed? And, in light of your actual performances, why should we believe you?"
Larry Beinhart is the author of Wag the Dog, The Librarian, and Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin. All available at nationbooks.org. His new novel, Salvation Boulevard, will be published in September, 2008, by Nation Books. Responses can be sent to email@example.com