David Petraeus’ Other Seduction
Might the United States have accomplished much the same thing without putting tens of thousands more troops in harm’s way? I’d argue that it’s quite likely. But Petraeus’ hagiographers have written a history that enshrined the general as the savior of Iraq, an interpretation that he was more than willing to aid and abet.
By the time President Obama was elected, Petraeus was the Republicans’ favorite military man, a widely recognized war hero and a person often mentioned as presidential material. According to people who know him well, he liked to fuel the rumor machine that kept his name among the mentioned. He was head of U.S. Central Command, one of the military’s top jobs.
Given the fact that Bush had encouraged politicization of the military, it came as no surprise when top brass — notably Stanley McChrystal, whom Obama later fired — began pressuring Obama to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan. But it was sheer coincidence that Obama ended up appointing Petraeus to take McChrystal’s place as top commander in Afghanistan after McChrystal’s insubordination became impossible to ignore.
Obama sent more troops to that troubled land, but he insisted on a timeline for withdrawal. And when Petraeus wanted another promotion — he hoped to be head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to published reports — Obama gave him the CIA instead. As the junior U.S. senator from Illinois, the president had been one of the few on the public stage to dare to question Petraeus early on, when he was promoting Bush’s decision to send more troops to Iraq. It seems Obama was among a small group who weren’t completely taken in by the general’s charms.
Americans wanted an easy solution for a war that never should have been waged — the invasion of Iraq. So when Petraeus came along claiming that he could slay the dragon, the country saluted its new hero. We were all ill-served by that, including a certain retired four-star general.
(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Photo credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais