There was a nice tribute to outgoing General Petraeus in the Joplin Globe this morning. The editors extended him a well-deserved “atta-boy” as he leaves Afghanistan to assume duties as CIA chief. There’s no question that he is a tough, determined and dedicated professional who succeeded in setting “a standard for wartime command in the modern era”, in the words of JCS Chief Admiral Mullen.
But the editorial then went too far, in my opinion, when it said,
Beginning with the surge in Iraq, a strategy of engagement with the people of Iraq as well as the enemies in that country, Petraeus established a level of success (emphasis added) seen only by Gen. Colin Powell in the first Gulf war, with his use of the Powell Doctrine.
Why too far? The answer, I submit, is in Admiral Mullen’s inference that warfare in “the
modern era” is different now from what it used to be. When General Powell engineered success in the first Gulf War, that was a classic battle of opposing armies, one with limited objectives. We didn’t capture the enemy’s country and there was no onus to manage Iraq’s internal economic and political aftermath. It is easy to tell when an army has been defeated – think “highway of death”.
But Petraeus’ achievements are different from Powell’s. He fought insurgencies, not armies, and his achievements were in managing the economic and political aftermath in Iraq and in dealing with the devilishly difficult internal affairs of Afghanistan. So to compare Petraeus’ “success” with that of Powell is, to me, comparing apples to oranges. While achievements were military in nature, they are different aspects of military operations. I submit that this is the distinction Mullen was pointing out.
And then there is the question of the lauded “success” of Petraeus. The editors didn’t define that, and even if they had wanted to, I doubt there would have been room. What does “success” look like in Afghanistan? If that’s what we have now, it sure isn’t pretty.
I wish to take nothing from Petraeus. As the editors said, he did an outstanding job with the resources he was given, quite possibly better than anyone else could have done. But it is misleading to compare apples to oranges because warfare in the future is more likely to be the Petraeus’ kind and not the Powell kind. The body politic and the Congress need to be aware of that.