Small Wars Journal

Max Boot is Spot On: Petraeus’s Phony Critics

Petraeus’s Phony Critics by Max Boot at Commentary.

The most unseemly aspect of the scandal surrounding David Petraeus is the gleeful Schadenfreude being exhibited by so many who are eager to kick a great man when he is temporarily down. One of the most egregious and nauseating examples is this New York Times op-ed by Lucian Truscott IV entitled “A Phony Hero for a Phony War.” It is insulting not only to Petraeus but to all those men and women who have served valiantly and at great risk in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Truscott is a West Point graduate with a famous name–his grandfather, Lucian Truscott Jr., was a notable general in World War II. Truscott IV, to judge by his preening description of himself, has rather less achievements to his name; he did not last long in the army and has made a career as a freelance writer and screenwriter, often sniping at the military establishment. He is apparently so in thrall to his grandfather and his contemporaries that he seems to think that no modern general can possibly measure up. “Iraq wasn’t a real war at all,” he sneers, which will come as news to the thousands of Americans killed there and the tens of thousands injured...



Mon, 11/19/2012 - 2:46pm

Different spanks for different ranks... Ever since the military started worrying it's self sick, about my (and everyone elses) junk, we haven't won anything. Our grandfathers during WWII, drank, screwed and took everything not nailed down (including their smallarms sometimes)home and shot a few prisoners. However they decisively won. We have fogotten that people are just that people. The only perfect one I know of has been dead a couple thousand years.


You cannot trust the promotion or advisory system to produce the most qualified leaderhsip and advisorship/mentorship. Your use of the terms "favorites" and "pets" is spot-on. I have long used the term "favorite pet" to dedscribe one of the outcomes of the patronage systems that exist between the General Officer corps and everyone else. It has elevated some to levels that are utterly inappropriate becuase they are simply "yes-men" or attractive, star-struck women. And, because they are intellectually dishonest or ill-prepared, or both, the infomation and feedback loops that orbit that decision maker are kept shallow and dishonest.

Witness any G-2 or J2 analyst who knows the truth and has documentation just try to out-match the Commander's initiatives group member who has the man's ear, or the patronage network that permeates the G-2 and G-3 senior staff. Intelligence fails most of the time; as does any other effort that contradicts the pleasantries of just about any senior military fiefdom. Only a couple GOs actually sought intelectually honest feedback- and they had to pry it out of the staff. It usually came from some back corner wuth the assistance of a good O-6 who was an outsider -- usually an individual augmentee.

I personally have witnessed over 26 months of that in deployed and home station environments; 26 months, that is of looking for it and doing behind-the-scenes research into significant issues that consumed the staff of a particular four-star command. It was one four-star, two three-stars, an about 25 other GOs and Admirals. A preponderance of the staffs (>50%) conducted business in this way.

Mark Pyruz

Mon, 11/19/2012 - 1:46am

Our family lost my great uncle Mike, a PVT in the U.S. Army, during the Battle of Bitche in World War II. When the family learned that during that general time period General Eisenhower was having an extramarital affair with his secretary and enjoying cocktail parties in cozy surroundings, my elders said there were sore feelings.

It's unclear when General Petraeus first enjoyed the physical pleasures of his extramarital affair--he says it happened after he left his Army position, but are we to trust a cheater? That said, it wouldn't surprise me if families of OEF battlefield casualties are going through the same thing our family went through upon hearing such news.

Peter J. Munson

Sun, 11/18/2012 - 8:56pm

This whole tawdry affair and the pettiness it has unleashed, while not in and of themselves truly significant, are emblematic of a deep, dark sickness in the military and in the defense establishment that surrounds them. Our young, first-term servicemembers are the one shining spot in the story of the past decade. The rest of us would do well to spend more time conducting some introspection and less time slinging around such snarkiness as both Truscott and Boot.

It would be awesome if pop-culture authors like Boot were more professional and at least tried to write balanced articles that address both sides of the issue, but I guess that is asking too much from authors who have become little more than propagandists who promote one extreme view over another. Boot may be surprised that many OIF vets like myself find his propaganda at least as insulting as Truscott's article, especially since the narrative Boot promoted resulted in what many of us believe to be poorly thought out policies and strategies. It is even worse when those promoting a specific narrative are doing so for self-promotion and profit.

Fortunately, I haven't seen a lot of personal attacks on Gen Petraeus since the affair was exposed. The article that Boot referred to is one, and then there was a pretty harsh article from Ralph Peters, but beyond that very little except to express disapointment. I think this indicates that the General is highly respected, so most writers decided to lay their poison pens down (for how long who knows). All people are prone to making decisions based on very human desires, and these personal decisions have nothing to do with their performance as Generals, Sergeants, Presidents, CEOs, etc. I think most Americans are tired of hearing about scandals and desire to see more media focus on substance, which unfortunately Boot didn't provide; he just attacked Truscott. If you can't deny the charges, then attack the messenger. Isn't that the art of propaganda?

I feel comfortable attacking the arguments Truscott made. I was in Iraq in 03 and 07, in 03 Petreaus was on the cutting edge in Mosul, and in 07 he pushed the troops out into the battlespace (intermingled with civilians), and directed SOF to pick up their direct action missions which resulted in a highly kinetic phase that broke the back of AQI. Gen P turned the situation around in OIF by conducting offensive operations at a blistering pace, which Truscott apparently denies. There was a little COIN, and a whole lot of killing terrorists and insurgents. Boot said it was a different kind of war and Gen P used uncoventional tactics. I don't see how it was different, or what the unconvential tactics were. It was irregular war as they have always been fought.

Boot then took his attack against Truscott to the extreme when he accused him of having an unsuccessful military career (as though that mattered). The charge seems to be true (assuming he planned to make a career out of the Army), but if Boot just did a little bit of research he would have found out Truscott as an active duty army officer refused to back down when he was directed to withdraw an article he wrote about the heroin problem in the Army. He refused to do so and resigned. Some people would call that moral courage, but on the other hand if you wanted to discredit someone you would spin it into a personal attack. That is the art of propaganda.

I don't agree with Truscott's article either, but Boot needs to up his game.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 11/18/2012 - 2:52pm

<blockquote>The most unseemly aspect of the scandal surrounding David Petraeus is the gleeful Schadenfreude being exhibited by so many who are eager to kick a great man when he is temporarily down. </blockquote>


It is not THE MOST unseemly aspect of the scandal but ONE unseemly aspect of the scandal.

True, it would be nice if the media were as diligent in other matters, such as what happened to all the gaps in the 9-11 report? Anyone digging into any of that? Too busy looking for book deals, are we?

But that doesn't mean that concerns about the DC class are invalid.

The critics vary, some fair, some unfair, some gleeful, others saddened. And to be fair to some critics, they were plenty willing to criticize when pop-COIN and FM 3-24 were the hottest things going. Those critics got a lot of flak for that too as I recall.

I don't care about the sexual aspects, humans are fallible and err. I do care about what this means and how it reflects on the military and the institutions charged with keeping Americans safe. It's not written in stone that the military has to enjoy such high acclaim forever and ever, you know.

It's the cronyism and the chumminess of the insider decision-maker culture that worries. As a civilian, how can I trust the promotion system and the adviser system when close examination shows a world of favorites, pets, and cronies? Of unexamined assumptions and poor theorizing? Of strange post retirement monetary and business relationships?

Plus, search engine, er, searching of "Tampa" and various foreign military leaders as keywords is interesting.

Fair? Unfair?

And as a woman, really? Some of the comments around here, like, we are just jealous. No, no one is jealous, some who are really qualified don't need to work with jerks or in environments where we can't trust anyone around us. Well-qualified women in various fields have options. This kind of stuff doesn't exactly lend itself to a recruitment drive.

These are important questions. I'm not a fan of the article Max Boot highlights either, but a circle-the-wagons approach isn't doing anyone any favors.

PS: I should stress, again, that I'm really really not a fan of the article that Max Boot criticizes.