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General Petraeus’ report to Congress

Posted by John Reed on

General Petraeus’ report to Congress

Some of the Democrats, like Lantos, made asses of themselves. Had I been Petraeus, I would have walked out and given my statement on the front steps of the Congress and taken questions from the press, leaving word with the politicians that I would come back when they were done with their speeches and ready for my testimony.

Other Democrats made some valid points.

The most important thing about Petraeus’ report was who and what were left out.

Not a military matter

The fact that a General and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testified and no one else suggests that the problems in Iraq are totally those that can be fixed by military personnel and a small staff of diplomats. But the discussion and other reports indicate that the problems primarily stem from sectarian feuds that have been going on for centuries, interference from neighboring countries against which Petraeus is prohibited from carrying out operations, foreign al Qaeda fighters whom Petraeus is neither trained nor equipped to identify.

Seems to me that the team needed there would have a far smaller percentage of military and far more police, diplomats, intelligence officers, detectives, engineers, and so forth.

Tactical military operations, the purview of people like David Petraeus, are only one link in the chain of a counterinsurgency. Other links, like the democratically or otherwise chosen government composed of citizens of the country in question are at least as important. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. In Iraq, the weakest link in the Iraqi government which has failed to reconcile the competing ethnic groups (Kurds, Persians, and Arabs) and the competing sects (sunni and shia). until the Iraqi government cleans up its act, which after thousands of years of not doing so is hardly imminent, it does not matter how good Petraeus conceives and executes is tactics. In the absence of any hope of Iraqi government reconciliation, Petraeus is remiss and derelict if he gives the president and Congress any advice other than prompt withdrawal of all U.S. forces.

Can’t admit a mistake

Should we have invaded Iraq to begin with? Apparently not. The main rationale for our current policy decisions seem to be primarily based on the unwillingness of the original Commander in Chief to admit he miscalculated and of his successor’s unwillingness to withdraw troops for fear he would lose political power if it were perceived to be a surrender or to be the cause of subsequent bad events in Iraq. Americans are dying daily because these political unwillingnesses on the part of Bush and Obama.

U.S. overreaction

Al Qaeda’s mission on 9/11/01 was to provoke an overreaction by the U.S.

Mission accomplished.

The damage inflicted on the U.S. by al Qaeda on 9/11/01 was minimal. They killed 3,000 people in a nation of 300,000,000 and damaged or destroyed a half dozen buildings.

Far greater damage has been done by the U.S.’s overreaction to the attack. More people died in the incremental car accidents caused by reluctance to fly (which is statistically a safer mode of travel) after 9/11/01 than were killed on 9/11/01. More U.S. military have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11 than civilians during 9/11. Over a trillion dollars in extra costs have hit the U.S., not because of what al Qaeda did, but because of how we overreacted to it, including airline and other business losses and costs of invading and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan.

The ongoing operations of Petraeus are continuing overreaction.

Stop terrorists from attacking U.S. or sectarian civil war?

We supposedly went to Iraq to stop the terrorists. Now as a Democrat fairly pointed out, we seem to be there to stop internal sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites. While Petraeus correctly pointed out that al Qaeda is involved in and using the sectarian violence to advance their goals, the Democrat was more correct. Our mission has morphed into a peacekeeping force keeping feuding religious siblings from killing each other, not from killing Americans.

Bloodbath if we leave

We are repeatedly told that there will be a bloodbath if we leave.

We were told that in Vietnam as well. It was correct in Vietnam. There was a blood bath known as the Killing Fields in Cambodia and another manifest by the Boat People in Vietnam after we left.

But the embarrassing fact is that while the American people verbally regret the post-pull-out civilian deaths in Southeast Asia, we would do the exact same thing, only sooner, if we had it to do over again. Simply stated, the American people did not care about the deaths of the Cambodian and Vietnamese civilians at the hands of the Communists in Southeast Asia nor do they care about the likely future deaths of Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq. Sure, they care enough to wring their hands and make statements against it, but they do not care enough to spend another 600 billion dollars or another 5,000 U.S. military lives.

Most Americans probably think that a civil war in Iraq could not happen to a nicer bunch of ungrateful, religious nut cakes. Nobody, not Petraeus or anyone else, is talking about that elephant in the room.

Democrats and Iraq

The Democrats are only interested in using Iraq to win political power in 2008. They are concerned that being in charge of the Iraq war after Bush leaves will make them look bad after 2008 so they want Bush to leave it nice and tidy for them on inauguration day, 2009.

Afghanistan is the Official War of the Democrat Party. They actually hate all wars, including Afghanistan, but they are afraid that if they admit that, the American people will think they are not the right party to defend the U.S. Had Bush emphasized the Afghan theater instead of Iraq, the Democrats would no doubt be saying Iraq was where the main effort should be, not fourth-rate power Afghanistan. If Bush says “potato,” the Democrats will argue in favor of “potahto,” and vice versa.

I predict the Democrats will get all the power they want in 2008, but that they will also inherit the Iraq War and huge numbers of troops there. Then they will have to cut and run and bear the consequences if that later looks like a bad idea. They will also then have the responsibility of winning the Afghan war and capturing or killing Bin Laden rather than just whining about it as a talking point.

160,000; 130,000? Wrong focus

The politicians and the media are preoccupied with counting troops in Iraq. Everyone seems to have chosen a side and is now in an ego contest to get their side to “win” as measured by whether troop counts in Iraq stay high or drop lower. They should focus on the big-picture questions. Should we be there at all? Is it a good idea to be there and, even if it is, is that where we want to spend so much money and lives? Are we willing to pay the huge price of victory given Petraeus’s picture of what that price will or may be? Is “victory” in Iraq worth what it would cost to the U.S.?

Petraeus says victory in Iraq will neither be quick nor easy. Well, maybe we should not be there then. Certainly Congress would not have approved the invasion of Iraq had they know it would take longer than it has and cost as much as it has. I don’t think Bush lied as the Democrats are always saying. I think he was biased in favor of the invasion. But there was no need to lie. Everyone in the world including the Democrats believed Saddam had and was trying to get more weapons of mass destruction. Hillary, John Edwards, and John Kerry voted for the Iraq war.

Rules of engagement

I have an article that says our rules of engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan may be the problem. I recently asked my barber what the young veterans coming back from those countries say about the war if they talk about it. He said the complain about the rules of engagement. As far as I know, Petraeus said not one word about the rules of engagement.


I and some in the military have said we should have a draft. My reasons are explained in my article on that subject. Petraeus said not a word about a draft.


In war more than any other activity, the goal or mission must be clear. For example, here is the mission statement of Allied forces for D-Day, 6/6/44:

The object of Operation Overlord is to mount and carry out an operation, with forces and equipment established in the United Kingdom, and with target date the 1st of May, 1944, to secure a lodgment on the Continent from which further offensive operations can be developed. The lodgment area must contain sufficient port facilities to maintain a force of some twenty-six to thirty divisions, and enable that force to be augmented by follow-up shipments from the United States or elsewhere of additional divisions and supporting units at the rate of three to five divisions per month.

That is a clear, simple mission statement.

What is the counterpart mission statement for Iraq? One of my fellow West Point graduates asked that question of West Point professor Col. Michael Meese, who spoke at our annual San Francisco West Point Society meeting. Meese said we did not have one other than to help the Iraqis accomplish their mission. I do not recall Petraeus saying what our mission was. I found the D-Day mission statement by searching for D-Day mission statement on Google. When I searched for “Iraq war mission statement,” only this came up.

We will answer threats to our security, and we will defend the peace.
George W. Bush

That is too vague and open-ended. Government officials love vague authority because it gives them a blank check. The problem is that it does not create a focus for the nation’s or the military’s efforts or a definition of success and a criterion for saying it’s over and coming home.

If the government cannot articulate a mission statement that is simple, clear and within the capability of those assigned to accomplish it, it should not have sent the U.S. military into Iraq to begin with and should withdraw them until such time as it can articulate such a mission statement.

Zero base consideration

Everyone in the Iraq war debate seems to have lost sight of the ball. Rather, the whole thing has degenerated into a sort of horse race about which side is “winning,” the Democrats or the Republicans. The whole debate is about whether a certain number of troops is a “token” amount or a “substantial” amount or a “modest” amount. It’s as if we need do nothing but judge a spin-doctor contest.

A couple of decades ago, “zero-based budgeting” was all the rage in business and government. The basic idea had some validity. That is, one should not make decisions on the future based on the conscious or subconscious notion that the past way of doing it was correct. Rather, the decisions should be considered from a zero base. For example, the fact that your marketing department had a budget of $10 million last year does not mean their budget for this year should be $10 million plus inflation. Instead, the decision makers should ask questions like do we even need marketing at all? Or should we be spending $20 million on marketing? In other words, do not be influenced by what was done in the past. Look at the matter de novo.

I see no evidence that any decision the Iraq debate is considering whether the whole idea of us being in Iraq at all is being seriously considered. Rather, it is all about troop levels and schedules.

Keeping promises

One consideration that overrides a zero-base approach, at least in part, is whether we have contractual obligations which prevent departing. We should keep our promises.

However, we cannot allow ourselves as a nation to become obligated by every promise made by anyone connected with the U.S. government from a second lieutenant in Iraq promising an interpreter, “The U.S. government will protect you so don’t worry about us leaving Iraq” to the President of the United States making sweeping Iraq-related promises in speeches. We should only be obligated to adhere to written treaties and contracts. In law, this is called the Statute of Frauds which says, basically, that certain contracts are not enforceable unless they are in writing. The U.S. should make a public pronouncement periodically that politicians speeches and verbal promises made by U.S. government employees are not binding on the people of the United States.

Lieutenants fighting for their lives will promise all sorts of things they have no right to promise. So will politicians use every trick in the book to get their way, including asserting that the U.S. has a moral or some sort of contractual obligation to stay in Iraq as a result of having invaded Iraq. Unless it is in writing, we have no such obligation and people who made promises to the contrary need to apologize and withdraw such guarantees.

Iraq is not a country

It seems obvious that the three major groups in Iraq—Kurds, Sunnis, and Shiites—are not interested in being in the same government with each other. It also seems obvious that all the problems we are encountering in our occupation of the country stem from our forcing these people who have never gotten along to get along.

Look at our two biggest occupations: Germany and Japan after World War II. We had next to no problems with those occupations. We turned two dictatorships into thriving, peaceful democratic allies. We even disbanded their armies, an act that is denounced as an obvious mistake in Iraq.

The difference was there was no dispute about whether Germans waned to be Germans or Japanese wanted to be Japanese. There is an enormous dispute about whether Kurds want to be Iraqis. And there is an enormous dispute about whether Sunnis and Shiites can cooperate with each other the way citizens of the same country must.

Yet the option of dividing the country into three countries—Kurdistan, Sunnistan, Shiiastan—is simply not on the table. Petraeus did not mention it. Nor did Crocker.

Ottoman Empire

According to Wikipedia, “Iraq was carved out of the Ottoman Empire by the French and British as agreed in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. On 11 November 1920 it became a League of Nations mandate under British control with the name ‘State of Iraq.’”

In other words, Americans are dying daily in Iraq to enforce a 90-year-old agreement between the French and British. Let the French and British die for it if anyone will. And if, as seems likely, they will not die for it, let the agreement itself die rather than Americans.

So carve it some more. Essentially, it is a smaller Ottoman Empire rather than an ending of the Ottoman Empire. It needs to be carved two more times. It was not carved enough in 1916.

I heard a guy on the radio the other day say that the West has fought numerous major wars over the former Ottoman Empire. The recent book Prophet of Innovation about economist Joseph Schumpeter tells of his idyllic childhood in the Ottoman Empire. Hodgepodge though it was, and apparently created to serve as a buffer between Russia and Western Europe, it seemed to work fairly well until World War I.

End the civil war overnight

Someone once said that the rules on getting involved in civil wars are:

1. Don’t.
2. If you must, pick a side.
3. Make sure your side wins.

We can end the civil war in Iraq overnight by dividing the country into Kurd, Sunni, and Shiite countries. The Shiites might still have a civil war in their new country. Who cares? Let them.

The Sunnis would cry the blues because their part has little oil. Who cares? Their Sunni buddies in the other Middle Eastern countries have plenty of oil and can subsidize them. And the Sunnis have been screwing the Kurds and Shiites for centuries. It would serve them right to make their living growing dates for a couple of centuries.

The Turks would whine because they fear their own Kurdish minority would be emboldened to seek independence if Iraqi Kurds had independence. These would be the same Turks who assured us we could invade Iraq through their country then reneged via referendum, the same Turks who are our fellow NATO allies.

After partition, if and when one of these countries invades another, the whole world can get in high dudgeon as it did when Iraq invaded Kuwait and the U.N. will vote to throw the invaders out under a U.N. flag.

Some may fear that the Iraqi Shiites would unite with Iran. If that’s what they want, who are we to deny it? It might lead to a more stable Middle East. Plus, the Iraqi Shiites are Arabs and the Iranian Shiites are Persians and the two groups are not so eager to join together.

Like India

This solution of dividing a formerly united country into three separate countries was done when Great Britain divested itself of its Indian colony. India became two countries: India and Pakistan. East Pakistan later became the independent country of Bangladesh. It’s not the most stable set of neighbors in the world, but it’s far more peaceful than current Iraq.

Some may say that dividing the country into three countries is a decision above the pay grades of Petraeus and Crocker. If so, then sending only Petraeus and Crocker to Congress was improper and misleading. Sending just those two suggested that they had all the authority they needed to solve the problem. They did not.

Sausages, laws, and generals
German leader Otto von Bismarck famously said,

It is good that the public does not see how sausages and laws are made.

He could also have said,

It is good that the public does not see how generals are selected.

When Bismarck used the word “good,” he meant solely from the perspective of the sausage and law makers. From the public’s perspective, it is bad that the public does not see how sausages, laws, and generals are made.

The public does see how Senators are made and has appropriately little respect for them as a result. Generals are made pretty much the same way. When I was at West Point and in the Army, the standard line was that “keeping your nose clean” (not pissing off any of your bosses) would get you to colonel. To make general, you had to play politics. I have never seen or heard anything that would refute that. The problem is the generals have managed to hide how they got to be generals from the public. The public thinks they are some sort of combination of combat hero (because of all the “fruit salad” on their left breast) and judge (because of the calm, controlled demeanor they affect). Ha! They are politicians only they can be more subtle about it because they only need the votes of a handful of superiors, not millions of voters. That is actually a much sleazier game than Senatorial election campaigns. At least the Senators get elected out in the sunshine where everyone can see what’s going on. The “smoke-filled room,” which may have become a non-smoking area in recent years, never ended within the military as far as choosing generals is concerned.

‘Thanks, I needed that’

The public seems to be quite taken with General Petraeus. With regard to that, let me see if I can slap you twice across the face in the “Thanks, I needed that” style.

Petraeus is the selection of a system that I have described in a number of articles at this Web site. Before you conclude General Petraeus is a great leader, a highly-decorated hero, and a man of enormous integrity and military competence, please read the following of my articles:

• Is military integrity a contradiction in terms?
• Is there really any such thing as military expertise regarding winning Twenty-First Century wars?
• The U.S. military’s 30-year, marathon, single-elimination suck-up tournament or How America chooses its generals.
• Review of the military’s new counterinsurgency manual written by General Petraeus
• No medals for moral courage
• Process-oriented versus results-oriented commanders
• Stuff that is Officially Voluntary but Unofficially Mandatory (O.V.U.M.) in the U.S. Military
• Did U.S. military personnel really earn all their medals?
• The suicide or murder of Lt. Col. Westhusing (who died while working for Petraeus in Iraq)

Is Petraeus a man of integrity?

I saw a poll on O’Reilly that said 97% of the public believe Petraeus. I find that disquieting. I did not spot a lie or suspect one in his testimony. However, this guy is a four-star general in the U.S. military.

As I said in my article, “Is military integrity a contradiction in terms?” you do not get to be a four-star general in the U.S. military by refusing to sign false documents or permitting your subordinates to refuse to sign them. If and when false documents had to be signed by Petraeus or his subordinates earlier in and throughout his career, those documents got signed.

Have I ever seen him or one of his subordinates sign a false document? No. Do I have evidence that he or one of his subordinates ever did sign? No. Do I nevertheless suspect he signed or suborned signing false documents? Yes. To understand why, read how ubiquitous and routine the signing of false documents is in the U.S. military. Am I sure he did so? No. What percent probability would I estimate? 99.9%

Avoid motor officer and command

Basically, to avoid signing a false document or suborning a false document, he would almost certainly have had to avoid ever being a motor officer or having a motor officer under his command and avoid ever being a company commander or having a company commander under his command. It is extremely unlikely that he avoided any of those assignments, let alone all of them. There are also various other ad hoc false documents that military officers are required to sign from time to time. If an officer ever refuses to sign a false document that his superiors want him to sign, his career is immediately over. General Petraeus has been a U.S. army officer for 33 years and his career success has been spectacular. Q.E.D.

The same is true of his refusing to kiss ass, exhibiting moral courage, or refusing to go along with something he should have refused to go along with. Had he ever done any of those things, his career would have ended in a nanosecond. It did not, so I conclude that he did not commit any of those “sins” from his superior’s perspective. Becoming a general requires that you win the 30-year, marathon, single-elimination suck-up tournament. General Petraeus never got eliminated in his 33-year suck-up tournament. On the contrary. He won the suck-up tournament.

He should have refused to sign false documents, kiss ass, and go along with improper things. Based on my experience in the military and observation from afar since then, I conclude he had many opportunities to do each of those things and that he took absolutely none of them. If he had, his top rank would have been Lieutenant Petraeus to maybe Captain Petraeus, not four-star General Petraeus.

Now that I have read the book The Gamble by Tom Ricks, I must append my comments to acknowledge that Petraeus did exhibit moral courage with regard to his involvement with Iraq. But I do not withdraw my suspicion that he did not exhibit much moral courage as a lower ranking officer as evidenced by the fact that he became a general. He appears to have done successfully what I was often urged to do in “counseling sessions” with my superiors: “bide your time until you reach high rank, then you can change things.”

I discussed this in my article on military integrity where I said this bide-your-time-theory was pure bullshit, that no U.S. Army officer had ever tried to change things when he reached higher rank, that the whole notion was just a rationalization of why they were going along rather than protesting when they should protest. My position still is that I do not respect that two-faced, “kiss up for 25 years then leap out of the closet” approach to one’s career. It’s dishonest and better late than never does not apply to integrity any more than it does to virginity. If you work for a sleazy organization, you need to get them to straighten out right now or quit.

1984 Army Professionalism Study

Petraeus graduated from West Point in 1974. Ten years later, when Petraeus was well into his officer career, the Army did a study. (Quoted on page 832 of the paperback edition of Col. David Hackworth’s book About Face) It found the Army was characterized by:

• faked reports
• shoddy leadership
• self-promotion

It gave Army officers lower marks for competence and “looking out for their subordinates” than in a previous study done in 1970 when the Army was suffering from the later stages of the Vietnam war including widespread drug use. In the 1984 study, half the officers surveyed said,

the bold, original, creative officer cannot survive in today’s Army

The ’84 study also concluded that

the officer corps was focused on personal gain rather than selflessness

My reaction to the Army of 1970 was to say let me out of this organization. Most of Petraeus’ West Point classmates apparently felt the same as I did as evidenced by their getting out of the Army before they were eligible for the Army’s extremely generous retirement benefits. Petraeus’s reaction to the worse-by-its-own account Army of 1984 was to want to stay in. That strangely suggests Petraeus was OK with faked reports; shoddy leadership; self-promotion; inability of bold, original, creative officers to survive; and focus on personal gain. Indeed, Petraeus’ subordinate Lt. Col. Ted Westhusing accused Petraeus of some of those things in his suicide note in Iraq in 2005.

1958 study

Want another study? If I had nothing better to do, I could probably find a dozen more. Here’s one from 1958. It was called the Ewell Board Report. It was done at West Point to answer the question “What attributes and qualities would be needed by new West Point graduates during the period 1968 to 1978?” In other words, ten to twenty years after the report was written.

I graduated from West Point in 1968; Petraeus, in 1974. In Vietnam, my unit was II Field Force. The commander of that unit at that time was Lt. General Julian J. Ewell (West Point class of ’39). Col. David Hackworth, the most decorated U.S. military officer in the Twentieth Century, whose book About Face I review at, was also in II Field Force at the same time I was. Here is part of what the Ewell Report said about how Petraeus and I should be educated:

The Regular Army officer has traditionally had great physical courage...yet repeated mention was made to the Board of a trend toward an insufficiency of moral courage. Discussion brought out that by this was meant the type of courage to report one’s own views fearlessly and honestly in the face of opposition, even that of superiors. Repeated mention was made of the increasing number of officers whose interests in advancement of their own careers has led them to accept meekly and to put forth views which they do not honestly believe. Moral courage is essential and should be strong enough to survive opposition, intimidation, and ridicule. A service which prohibits moral courage and penalizes it as a characteristic will soon find itself sterile of imaginative and objective thinking. Intelligent nonconformity is the phrase General Gavin applies to one quality he lists as important in the future Army officer. We must recognize that the Army, conservative and authoritative by necessity, presents special hazards for the intelligent nonconformist.

General James Gavin, West Point Class of ’29, was the youngest Major General in the U.S. Army since the Civil War when he achieved that rank as head of the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II. Gavin was one of Hackworth’s heroes. Both Gavin and Hackworth retired from the Army prematurely in protest. Gavin explained why in his book War and Peace in the Space Age. That book came out the same year as the Ewell Board Report. Hackworth explained why he retired in protest in his book About Face.

Was I an intelligent nonconformist? You bet. How did the Army to which the Ewell Board Report was submitted react to my intelligent nonconformity? With “opposition, intimation, and ridicule.” They gave me the worst efficiency reports anyone I knew had ever heard of. They stopped me from being promoted to captain. They transferred me to less desirable duty. You name it.

Is Petraeus an intelligent nonconformist? Is he willing to exhibit moral courage, that is, “report his own views fearlessly and honestly in the face of opposition, even that of his superiors?” Did he “meekly accept or put forth views which he did not honestly believe?” Well, let’s work backwards. The guy is a four-star general and has THE plum assignment—Iraq commander—in the whole U.S. military. Does this suggest that he EVER in his 33-year career expressed views that differed from those of his superiors? Didn’t Petraeus and almost everyone else say that his views were in conformance this those of his Commander in Chief? What a coincidence!?

The prosecution rests.

I am probably being too obtuse using the Socratic method here so I’ll just say it straight out.

There is not a snowball’s chance in La Jolla that David Petraeus ever expressed a view that was contrary to those of his superiors prior to his involvement in Iraq.

If he had, he would not have made captain, let alone four-star general. The Ewell Board Report was correct. The Ewell Board Report was also ignored, as were the 1970 and 1984 studies that said the Army still had the same problems identified by the Ewell Board Report. All three reports were squarely addressed to the period when Petraeus was a young or mid-career officer.

Again, in light of the contents of The Gamble, I must concede that with regard to Iraq, Petraeus did express views that were contrary to those of his superiors. I would characterize that as a bigger gamble than the gamble referred to by the title of Ricks’ book, i.e., the Surge. Petraeus got away with it and prospered as a result. But it still seems extremely likely to me that his biding his time, that is, playing the game by not expressing contrary views until he was well-established was necessary to pull that off.

Petraeus is currently credited with a great tactical victory over al Qaeda in Iraq and Iraqi insurgents. There is much truth to that, but his greater, far more important victory was over the hidebound, careerist bureaucracy that is the U.S. military officers corps. Whether either of his victories will last remains to be seen. The Iraq victories seem doomed to be undone when the U.S. reduces troop levels. The bureaucracy will try to undo Petraeus’s victories there. Whether they succeed will turn on whether younger officers exhibt the same sort of moral courage as Petraeus, Odierno, Keane, and so on in the future.

In About Face, Hackworth severely criticizes II Field Force Commander Ewell for doing precisely what the Ewell Board Report said the Army should not do. If you look up “Do as I say not as I do” in a quotations dictionary, there will be a picture of the U.S. Army next to the definition.

Great briefing

The public is favorably impressed by Petraeus because he gave a great briefing.

Folks, they gave great briefings every day in Vietnam. The press ultimately figured out they were bullshit showbiz and dubbed them “The Five O’Clock Follies.” 

At West Point, we were taught how to teach classes and such. We were taught to rehearse each such presentation at least three times in front of an audience. Preferably, in the same room where you would be giving the presentation and with the exact audio-video equipment or white board or whatever you would be using. Petraeus probably repeatedly prepared for his report to Congress and answering Congressional questions like a presidential candidate preparing for a televised debate.

Did the American people fall in love with the rotund General Norman Schwarzkopf during Desert Storm? You bet. The guy has made millions since as a result. And what exactly did he do? He gave an entertaining press briefing. General Westmoreland, the Vietnam commander, wondered what the big deal was about Schwarzkopf’s briefing. He said it was just a standard military briefing. Indeed it was to those of us who had been in the military, but the press and public were charmed.

Could others have done that? Sure. For example, Schwarzkopf did not have Petraeus’s job. Rather he was CentCom Commander. So why didn’t the current Centcom Commander brief Congress? But if Schwarzkopf had let the Iraq U.S. Commander, Petraeus’s current job, give the briefing, Schwarzkopf would not now be a zillionaire would he?

U.S. military officers are so into briefings that I read once that the military had all but outlawed Power Point. Folks, the U.S. military is great at briefings. If briefings were victories, we would have long been out of Iraq and we would have won in Vietnam. But they’re not. Petraeus talked a good game and looked the part in his report to Congress. Nothing wrong with that, but it should not be any basis for drawing a conclusion about General Petraeus. His job is to win the war, not just talk about it.

Is Petraeus a decorated war hero?

The media, especially the right-leaning media, refer to Petraeus as a “decorated war hero” or a “highly decorated war hero.” According to Wikipedia, here are Petraeus’s medals:

* Defense Distinguished Service Medal
* Distinguished Service Medal (with Oak Leaf Clusters)
* Defense Superior Service Medal (with Oak Leaf Clusters)
* Legion of Merit (with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters)

* Bronze Star Medal (with “V” Device)
* Defense Meritorious Service Medal
* Meritorious Service Medal (with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters)
* Joint Service Commendation Medal
* Army Commendation Medal (with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters)
* Joint Service Achievement Medal
* Army Achievement Medal

I put the good bureaucrat medals in green and the hero medal in red.

The Bronze Star with a V (for valor) device is the lowest heroism award in the U.S. military. I would like to see the wording of the citation and the date the action in question took place before stipulating that he was a hero in the sense that the general public understands that. As I said in my article on U.S. military medals, many medal awards have earmarks of suspicion like the recipient being of high rank at the time he won it, lack of purple hearts awarded to nearby troops in the same action, lack of captured enemy weapons, and so forth.

Where is the citation?

I think it is noteworthy that an Internet search for Petraeus’s bronze star citation turns up nothing by a whole bunch of other people also looking for it with no success. Some posts said that Petraeus was a major general when he got the Bronze Star with V device. I would characterize that award at that rank as extremely suspicious. Seems to me that if Petraeus is going to claim to be or acquiesce to others claiming he is a war hero, he needs to release his bronze star with V device citation. Such citations are typically publicized at the time of the award. Many recipients display in their homes or offices shadow boxes containing the citation and the medal. There are Web sites that contain the citations of every medal of honor ever awarded.

As explained at my medals article, getting shot at by the enemy is not heroism. Shooting back at the enemy is not heroism. Supposedly, to earn a heroism award like the Bronze Star with a V device, you have to perform “heroic...service...while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States...”

Pending learning the details of Petraeus’ bronze star with V device award, I have no problem with him being identified as a “decorated war hero.” However, the man has nine rows of medals on his dress uniform, plus about six badges and another row of three medals above his right breast pocket. I suspect that the public thinks these are all for heroism. And I have never seen Petraeus or any other military career officer make the slightest effort to discourage that impression. That is dishonest. At West Point, it was called “quibbling,” that is, allowing people to believe something that is not true by remaining silent when it became apparent that they misinterpreted something.

All but one of Petraeus’ awards, the Bronze Star with V device, are for things like being in the Army at a particular time, being in a particular country, being a good bureaucrat, graduating from some army school that lasts a matter of weeks, or are awards from foreign militaries for similar things as I just listed.

Petraeus is too young to have served in Vietnam. There really have not been many opportunities to earn heroism medals since Vietnam. Missing Vietnam was not his fault, but wearing ten rows of medals and a half dozen badges while not being in much of a hurry to discourage the impression that he won multiple heroism medals is his fault.

This is reminiscent of John Kerry asking people to vote for him in part because of his “war hero” record but refusing to authorize release of his military records. If Petraeus is going to say or imply that he is also a war hero, it ought to be routine for him to include the Bronze Star with V Device citation in his online biography. ad in New York Times

On the occasion of Petraeus’ report to Congress, ran an ad that said “General Petraeus or general betray us?” What do I think of it?


More interesting is the fact that Hillary refused to denounce the ad and used the phrase “requires suspension of disbelief” to characterize Petraeus’ testimony. And that two other candidates, Obama and Dodd, also refused to denounce it. Apparently they did this because they are afraid of, a rabidly left Web site. There is no doubt that the left will vote for the Democratic candidate in 2008. What is their alternative? To vote Republican or stay home and thereby let the Republicans win? So what are Clinton, Obama, and Dodd afraid of? Beats me. But it belies their claims that they will stand up to terrorists. They won’t even stand up to the extremist nutcakes within their own party.

The phrase “move on” refers to the desire to end discussion of Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky which was the hot topic for which the organization was founded.

Even the New York Times Public Editor denounced the ad and blamed their boss publisher Arthur Sulzberegr for publishing it. But Hillary, Barack, and Dodd won’t denounce it.

Not following his own counterinsurgency manual

I read recently that Petraeus has not been following his own counterinsurgency manual’s advice since he became top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Good for him. I criticized both him and Lt. Col. John Nagl’s book How to Eat Soup With A Knife for trying to promulgate “doctrine” on how to fight counterinsurgencies. I said such wars, like most wars, needed to be fought on an ad hoc basis. I also quoted others who said the same thing. There are few valid generic rules or “doctrines” for combat. It depends on such things as:

• climate
• weather
• terrain
• vegetation
• size of forces on each side
• weapons available to each side
• enemy’s style of fighting
• rules of engagement
• government of the country in question
• etc.

Furthermore, it is dynamic. We try A, B, and C techniques against al Qaeda. C works. Al Qaeda tries D, E, and F against us. E works. We then try G, H, and I partly to blunt their E tactic. They in turn adopt J, K, and L in part to blunt our success with C. And so it goes back and forth.

When the Iraq war began, I wrote the following in the 2/03 issue of my newsletter Real Estate Investor’s Monthly:

The main unexpected thing I learned about war at West Point was the importance of terrain. We won Desert Storm easily because it was fought in the desert. Now Saddam wants to fight in cities. Smart move on his part—reminiscent of the Viet Cong strategy of “holding onto the Americans’ belt” (i.e., staying close).
Ideally in war you fight from within the range of your weapons, but outside the range of your enemy’s weapons. House-to-house fighting negates our advantages.
We need to target the “strings” that “puppeteer” Saddam uses to control the country, like communications and the Republican Guards. If a dictator gives an order and no one hears it, he’s not a dictator anymore.

The military claims great expertise at war, but wars are, in fact, amateur hour—at least at the start. Where did America’s current military learn how to fight wars—even mid-career types—senior sergeants and captains and such?

Nowhere. The last “war” was only 100 hours long 12 years ago. It was not long enough for anyone to learn much. It was a long time ago. Today’s privates were in first grade then; today’s captains, in junior high school. Today’s senior sergeants were privates then. Weapons are different.

I was impressed with Army schools when I was in, but not with unit training. Bureaucracy and careerism always took precedence over productive, realistic training in my experience. Unfortunately, training is all our military has to rely on for expertise at the beginning of most wars. I hope our military leaders will have due humility about what they know and don’t know and try to learn as they go rather than rely on any preconceived theories. The greatest danger to our troops at the beginning of wars is the incompetence of inexperienced superiors rather than the enemy.

Rick’s book The Gamble indicates I was right about that. Petraeus figured out the same things and acted on them as well as persuading others, including President Bush, to do the same

Email from a colonel

I got an email from a U.S. Army colonel who did not like this article. What does he like? The Army and his superior officer, General Petraeus.

My first thought was stop the presses for that one. Headline: An Army colonel reveals that he likes the Army and thinks a guy who outranks him is great.

In the interest of avoiding boring my readers, I figured I would refrain from printing that. However, upon further review, I think the letter and the arguments it makes are typical of career Army officers and unwittingly proves a number of my points about career military integrity, expertise in winning wars, focus on looking the part and talking a good game over performance, and sycophancy. Indeed, the phrase “typical of career Army officers” may be redundant. They have the same shoes, clothes, and haircuts—for thirty years—so no one should be surprised that they spout the same party line.

Also, I think I can make the email more interesting and instructive by juxtaposing my comments next to his.

The colonel also boldly authorized me to quote him by name, rank, and unit. I expect he will now be told by his superiors to leave commenting to the press to the trained obfuscators at the public affairs department of the Department of the Army. Oh, and he also labeled his email as “unclassified.” Whew! Glad to hear that. I think my top secret clearance may no longer be valid since I left the military.

On 1/14/08 2:14 AM, "Tyron, Joseph LTC 20th Eng Bd DBC"
<> wrote:

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED

Joseph Tyron said
John T. Reed’s comments
Mr. Reed, I came across your site quite by accident, I was actually looking for more information on the KATUSA program, (beyond the personal experience I have with them as a platoon leader in 2ID) what I found was more historical in nature but Google doesn't always give you exactly what you want. Huh?
I read some more of your miscellaneous military thoughts. I'm
not sure how you claim expertise on all the subjects on the military that are discussed but I would subscribe to you that your experience of nearly 35 years ago is out of date with the Army of 2008.

I do not claim expertise on any of the military subjects I wrote about. I said so in a number of places in my military Web articles. I would not be qualified to testify in court as an expert witness on any of them.

“subscribe to you” He means “suggest” but has never learned to speak English competently in his 30 years as a career military officer or his prior education.

This is an intellectually-dishonest debate tactic. See intellectually-dishonest debate tactics numbers 2 (changing the subject) 4 (irrelevant), 21 (straw man), and 22 (trying to discredit facts or logic as mere opinion) in my article on such tactics. The subject we are supposed to be discussing is General Petraeus’ report to Congress and related facts. Since I did not claim to have expertise that would render my opinions admissible evidence, my expertise is a new, different subject, irrelevant, a straw man set up by Tyron so he can knock it down. With regard to the facts and logic in my article, it is a “non-denial denial,” to use a phrase from the Watergate scandal. That is, Tyron seems to say that my not having recent experience in the military caused me to get facts wrong, but instead of identifying the facts he implies I got wrong, he tries to distract the reader to an irrelevant red herring—my expertise. Most likely, he does not challenge my facts because he knows they are correct. According to the legal phrase “negative pregnant,” his non-denial denial can be construed as an admission that my facts and logic are correct. The classic negative pregnant example is the defendant who says, “I did not shoot Smith” when asked, “Did you kill Smith?” Although the answer is phrased as a denial, it also sneakily changes the subject from killing to shooting, thereby tacitly admitting that he did kill Smith, albeit by a means other than shooting.

You have some nuggets of truth in your blog He does not identify any. Had he done so, it might end his career. Indeed, I wonder if one or more of his superiors may still call him into a conference room and ask him exactly what “nuggets of truth” he found in my articles. At which point, his mind’s eye will see the general’s stars he had hoped for flying out the window. (A colonel is the highest rank just below general.)
I don't understand your motivation Apparently he did not read my article Why I created these Web pages on military issues. My motivation is explained there. It is also irrelevant. Still conspicuous by its absence in Tyron’s emails are any identifications of factual errors. Questioning the motives of your debate opponent is intellectually-dishonest debate tactic #3 in my article.
but I can consider your perspective. I am glad that we live in a country where reasonable people can disagree. Superfluous cliché. Sounds like one of those innocuous platitudes that politicians spout to avoid saying anything meaningful while still babbling on like Mr. Leader.
You couldn't be more wrong about General Petraeus and I thought I would point that out to you with some facts you wouldn't or couldn't know. FACTS! Aha! Finally! And what, pray tell, facts did I get wrong?
First, here is a guy who has done his homework on
counterinsurgency by studying the historical incidents
That would not be a fact I overlooked. I reviewed Petraeus’ 2006 counterinsurgency manual in a Web article.
and has used best practices to move us forward in the right direction. This is a conclusory opinion statement by Tyron. If he is going to offer opinions into evidence, he must first prove that he is qualified to form such opinions. I would not expect that a Corps of Engineer colonel would be expert in what the best practices of counterinsurgency are, considering he is a member of an Army that never won such a war. See my article Is there really any such thing as military expertise? Generally, there do not appear to be many best practices in warfare in general and especially in counterinsurgencies. You have to make it up as you go along on an ad hoc basis in each battle area. I learned in the book The Gamble about the Surge that Petraeus et al did discover number of best practices in the field of counterinsurgency tactics.
It's not hype, casualties are down, the Iraqi people are moving forward and I have seen it with my own eyes. Apparently Tyron did not bother to read my Web article John T. Reed’s comments on progress in the Iraq war. Had he done so, he would have known that my readers do not need any input from him to know these facts.
Is it perfect? Straw man argument. I never said Petraeus has to be perfect.
I don't think so but it represents progress.

Ah! This is a telling word: “progress.” In his farewell address to the West Point Corps of Cadets, General Douglas MacArthur said, “Your job is to win our wars.”

In my articles about the apparent lack of military expertise, I noted that our military has not won a war since Douglas MacArthur accepted the surrender of the Japanese on the Battleship Missouri in 1945. Apparently, Joe Tyron and his fellow Army career officers have revised their job description downward. It is no longer to “win our wars.” Now, mere “progress” is sufficient. Instead of the MacArthur standard, they now wish to be judged by the Kindergarten standard of an E for effort.

Second, I don't know the ins and outs of picking Generals, Not exactly a Shermanesque denial that he does not want to be one. If he does want to be one, there is not a snowball’s chance in Havana that he would tell us the ins and outs of picking generals if he did know. What do you think the chances are that an Army colonel, the last rank before general, does not know anything about the ins and outs of picking generals?
I'm not one but I have seen bunch of great ones and a few poor ones. Names please. If I were asked to name great generals, I would not be able to name any after Matthew Ridgeway who left the Army in 1955—until Petraeus. See my article The U.S. military’s marathon, 30-year, single-elimination, suck-up tournament OR How America selects its generals for my version of the “ins and outs.” It does not strike me as very hard to prove that all the generals since Ridgeway have all been unsatisfactory at winning our wars until Petraeus.
The same can be said of leaders in any organization, none are perfect. Multiple assaults on the same straw man.
Third, in 1995 COL Petraeus was one of the first guys to rush in
the direction of sniper fire towards the woods at Ft Bragg. I wasn't on the field but my next door neighbor SSG (Squad Ldr in the 4/325 AIR) was there that day and relayed the incident.
I asked for some proof of this. Tyron sent me a link to an article that makes no mention of Petraeus. ( The article depicts a bunch of unarmed soldiers chasing after and subduing a heavily-armed sergeant who shot at a group of soldiers killing one and wounding others. One would have to have been present to be sure what the proper course of action was. But, in general, don’t try this at home. It sounds like an “I admire your courage but I question your judgment” behavior pattern. Both my military training and common sense dictate that you should try to get away from hostile armed persons when you are not armed. As I said in my Virginia Tech article, when you are unable to get away, attacking the armed man is the best course.
I think that counts for courage in a very tangible way. Most soldiers never get the true recognition they deserve, we can only hope that leaders can recognize them for some of their great deeds.

First, I am not aware of anyone, me included, who said Petraeus lacks courage. I would not know. I would expect he probably is courageous or would be if the occasion presented itself. What I said was that he is frequently described as a “decorated war hero” but lacks medals for courage other than one bronze star with a V device for valor that seems to have been awarded after Petraeus was a major general. As I said in my article on whether military people earned all the medals they wear, the awarding of bravery medals to generals is suspicious per se.

Soldiers, of which I was one in the Vietnam war, deserve our gratitude for the separation from their loved ones, the harsh conditions in which they often live and work, and the fact that they risk their lives to various degrees when they are in combat zones. We do not, however, deserve “hero” status just for having drawn combat pay.

Fourth, commanders who have worked for him directly only have the greatest respect for him both as leader and mentor.

This is also telling.

First off, Colonel Tyron is outranked big time by four-star General Petraeus. What else dare he say?

Second, one of the points I have made again and again in my military Web pages is that successful career Army officers are, if nothing else, great at making a good impression on the people around them, especially their superiors. To a large extent, I believe they are one-trick ponies and that is their only trick. They may have been more before they entered the military, but within the military, I see few, if any, rewards for anything other than making a good impression on one’s superiors. Their other talents atrophy in the military bureaucracy.

In the book The Gamble, author Ricks quotes a number of Petraeus’ colleagues who describe him as being focused on his own career and not a warm and fuzzy guy who is loyal downward and held in “the greatest respect” by everyone. I hasten to add that he seems to define career success in terms of tactical success in Iraq and Afghanistan rather than Army promotions and positions.

Here’s a quote from page 22 of The Gamble: “David Petraeus is the best general in the U.S. Army, bar none,” said this officer, who has known him for more than a decade. But, he adds, “He also isn’t half as good as he thinks he is.”

That page and adjacent ones are devoted to similar comments from many who worked with Petraeus. Here’s another comment from one of Petraeus’ subordinates, Brigadier General Anderson, who said of Odiernoo and Petraeus,

Odierno is more loyal to his people, Sometimes if you move on from Petraeus, he will forget you...It’s a little bit ore about Dave than it is about Ray.

That’s the difference between some pompous ass colonel, like Tyron, popping off like Cliff Claven on his bar stool in Cheers and a journalist (me) who researches what he says.

Wow! Can that many guys be wrong? I don't think so!

Vote counting is a politician’s habit. That’s the second time I have noted that Colonel Tyron is behaving like a politician. Also, Tyron is claiming that those who worked “for” Petraeus say he’s great. Petraeus is a general. He writes the officer efficiency reports of the guys who work for him. With a slight turn of phrase in those efficiency reports, he can end their careers as far as making general is concerned. I would phrase Tyron comments as “Petraeus’s sycophants all praise him highly.”

Wow! What are the chances of that?

I could go on and on to point out the fact you have many
misguided thoughts on the Army
Before he was forced to resign the presidency because of Watergate, Nixon was fond of this “I could but I won’t” innuendo. Innuendo is another intellectually-dishonest debate tactic. Senator Joe McCarthy, after whom McCarthyism and the McCarthy era were named, was also fond of claiming he had proof that this or that person was guilty, but he refused to reveal it.
but to quote a great mentor of mine, "You can't be a player in the game if you are side lines"

Name please.

Actually, when I was in the Army, I could not be a player in the game of reforming it because the military brass attack any hint of deviation from the party line like white blood cells attacking a foreign body in the blood stream. Again and again, I was “counseled” that, “You can’t change the Army, Lieutenant Reed.” See my article on military integrity for the whole career officer “why you must shut up” speech that starts with those words. As West Point graduate, Rhodes Scholar Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl said in his book Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife, one theory on military innovation is that it can only be caused by pressure from outside the military. I am now outside the military. The more accurate statement is that the last damned place any pressure to reform the military will come from is the likes of lifers like Colonel Joseph Tyron who have spent their entire lives inside the belly of the military bureaucratic beast playing the games necessary to survive and advance there.

something a youth sports coach can believe without question. A youth sports coach? That’s supposed to be an accurate description of me? I last coached youth sports in 1998 when my youngest son was eleven years old and playing on a flag football team. More recently, I was a high school football coach. But even that was three years ago. Most people describe me as an author, which has long been my full-time occupation. Even my Wikipedia biography, which I think is a bit off, does not describe me as a youth coach. Is Tyron trying to put me down or diminish me and the value of anything I have to say by implying that there is something wrong with coaching one’s sons in youth sports or that youth sports coach is the peak accomplishment of my life?
Keep on blogging and I will keep on defending your right to say it. What a nice guy! If I had been asked why colonels are in the Army, I would have said in most cases it was for the extremely generous retirement benefits and because they don’t think they could make it on the outside in the real world. Not Tyron. He is in Iraq risking his life to prevent the imminent danger of the Iraqi insurgents taking down my Web pages.
For the record you can publish my name, rank, and unit. My
comments are my own and I am not a Ranger or West Point Graduate but I am a proud Master Parachutist and have enjoyed my 7 years on jump status.
All the Way!

Not a ranger? Wuss! No wonder he’s not a general.

“A proud master parachutist.” Roughly speaking, that means he jumped out of a plane 65 times plus some other lesser standards. Guy’s in his fifties and he is still beating his chest about parachute jumps? I surmise this is in response to my article on paratroopers and the fact that jumping out of a plane is no big deal. My oldest son and his wife made tandem jumps from 14,000 feet on 4/12/08. The civilian my son jumped with had 9,000 jumps. I doubt he would be impressed with 65 jumps and if I needed a paratroop for a combat operation, I would prefer the civilian instructor to the “master parachutist.”

Very impressive, Colonel. but can you win an asymmetrical war? If not, I suggest you spend less time on this rather repetitive, never-used-since-1944 behavior pattern of jumping out of planes and spend more time figuring out how to defeat the enemy.

You are, as you stated a journalist, so entertainment, notoriety, and subscribership are your key objectives.

Bull! My key objectives are stated in my article Why I created these Web pages on military issues. I do not sell “subscribership” to my Website nor do I sell any military products.

This is another intellectually-dishonest debate tactic from my list of such tactics—#3 Questioning the motives of the opponent: this is a form of tactic number 2 changing the subject; as stated above, it is prohibited by Robert’s Rule of Order 43; a typical tactic use against critics is to say, “They’re just trying to sell newspapers” or in my case, books—questioning motives is not always wrong; only when it is used to prove the opponent’s facts or logic wrong is it invalid.

Robert’s Rule of Order #43 is It is not allowable to arraign the motives of a member, but the nature or consequences of a measure may be condemned in strong terms. It is not the man, but the measure, that is the subject of debate. Robert was West Point Graduate Henry Martyn Robert

In summary, Tyron implies repeatedly that my article about Petraeus is wrong, but he cites not a single fact that I got wrong. Indeed, the only fact he offers is that there was a shooting at Fort Bragg when Petraeus was stationed there. That seems to prove nothing relevant to my article about Petraeus. The only thing Tyron says it proves, is an issue that neither I nor anyone else has questioned: Petraeus’ courage. I do not concede that he is courageous, only that I know of no reason to believe he is not. If and when he ever gets a chance to display combat bravery, Petraeus and the rest of us will find out then.

Based on his emails to me, I conclude that Tyron is not the brightest bulb and not inclined to discuss issues on the basis of facts or logic. Rather, he spouts one intellectually-dishonest debate tactic after another. He reveals motives that settle for less than victory, namely making a good impression on the people around you and making “progress.”

My main complaint about the Tyrons of the world is that they talk a better game than they play, that they are bureaucrats who are consumed with process and looking the part and who have little interest in concrete results. If Tyron is like most career officers, he has been in the military since he was a teenager (in ROTC) and has never had an adult job in the real world where one truly has to get the job done.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has lasted longer than World War II even though the enemy has perhaps 1% of the strength of the Nazis and Japanese of 65 years ago and our military is infinitely stronger than the U.S. military of the early 1940s.

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