Wednesday, October 3, 2007

It's working, it's almost perfect -- now stop!: Andrew Bacevich on Petraeus's strange tactical logic

All of the main contributors to Exit-Strategies are associated, in one way or another, with The American Conservative magazine, and thus we’re going to make a conscious effort to refrain from too much horn-tooting, hat-tipping, and praise-singing of our current or former employer.

Nevertheless! – we would be remiss in not discussing Andrew J. Bacevich’s recent analysis of the Petraeus report to Congress, “Sycophant Savior.”

So far, the provocative title has garnered most of the attention and, as discussed below, has issued some maladroit comparisons to’s sophomoric “General Betray-Us” ad in the New York Times.

Far from resorting to name-calling, Bacevich demonstrates exactly how Petraeus was all too willing to cozy up to DC:

"Petraeus demonstrated that he is a political general of the worst kind—one who indulges in the politics of accommodation that is Washington’s bread and butter but has thereby deferred a far more urgent political imperative, namely, bringing our military policies into harmony with our political purposes."

This was hardly a partisan matter as Petraeus gave Dems something to take home as well:

“A modest drawdown comes as good news to Democrats... Accused with considerable justification of having done nothing to end the war since taking control of the Congress in January, they can now point to the drawdown as evidence that they are making headway. As Newsweek’s Michael Hirsch observed, Petraeus ‘delivered an early Christmas present’ to congressional Democrats.”

In the second half of his piece, Bacevich moves beyond politics and offers one of the most pointed critiques of America’s military tactics in Iraq I’ve come across.

Petraeus’s central message was clear – “the surge is working” – but this makes his central recommendation – “it’s time to draw down troops” – deeply puzzling:

“What then should [Petraeus] have recommended to the Congress and the president? […] A single word suffices to answer that question: more. More time. More money. And above all, more troops.

“It is one of the oldest principles of generalship: when you find an opportunity, exploit it. Where you gain success, reinforce it. When you have your opponent at a disadvantage, pile on. In a letter to the soldiers serving under his command, released just prior to the congressional hearings, Petraeus asserted that coalition forces had “achieved tactical momentum and wrestled the initiative from our enemies.” Does that reflect his actual view of the situation? If so, then surely the imperative of the moment is to redouble the current level of effort so as to preserve that initiative and to deny the enemy the slightest chance to adjust, adapt, or reconstitute.

“Yet Petraeus has chosen to do just the opposite. Based on two or three months of (ostensibly) positive indicators, he has advised the president to ease the pressure, withdrawing the increment of troops that had (purportedly) enabled the coalition to seize the initiative in the first place.

“This defies logic. It’s as if two weeks into the Wilderness Campaign, Grant had counseled Lincoln to reduce the size of the Army of the Potomac. Or as if once Allied forces had established the beachhead at Normandy, Eisenhower had started rotating divisions back stateside to ease the strain on the U.S. Army.

Nowhere else is the utter incoherence of late-Bushian Washington better expressed: “Our new tactic is working!, and therefore we’re finally able to stop doing it!”

If the government and the people we’re actually willing to do what it takes to achieve total, absolute victory in Iraq, we’d draft every man under 30 and ship them Babylon. We aren’t; we won’t. The public would rather go shopping; the government would rather use news of our great success as an excuse to do what it must do out of necessity – draw down the troops due to obvious strain.

* * *

So far, the response to the piece on the web has not been enlightening, and, interestingly, the pro-war Right has not forcefully responded.

Much of the moveon-dailykos-Left types have been fixated on the idea that the great monolithic right-wing conspiracy wouldn’t dare attack one of its own. The Pensito Review writes, “We’ll be waiting (but not holding our breath) to see if anyone drafts a similar measure [as the legislation] condemning The American Conservative magazine.” (Identical sentiments can be found here, here, and here).

These bloggers seem to have forgotten this lovely little 2003 front-page article in NR in which David Frum insinuated that those who opposed the invasion of Iraq did so out of evil anti-Semitic, America-hating motives.

When they were riding high, the pro-war Right savaged antiwar conservatives with distain and glee, now that they’re slowly being mugged by reality, silence towards serious critics on the Right is the new MO.

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