Small Wars Journal

Obama Wanted a Petraeus. Buyer Beware.

Obama Wanted a Petraeus. Buyer Beware. - Greg Jaffe, Washington Post opinion.

It is hard not to look at Stanley McChrystal without seeing David Petraeus. Both generals are fitness freaks, capable of running soldiers half their age into the ground. Within hours of taking command of faltering wars, both were vowing to remake their forces. "We must change the way we think, act and operate," McChrystal wrote in September instructions to his troops in Afghanistan. He was practically channeling Petraeus, circa 2007, who challenged his troops in Iraq to adopt a new "warrior-builder-diplomat" mind-set.

These similarities were a big selling point for the Obama administration, which this summer decided it wanted its own Petraeus - a creative wartime commander and gifted manager who could push the military in Afghanistan into unfamiliar realms, such as economic development and tribal politics. But the past week showed that a Petraeus redux comes with some heavy baggage - for McChrystal as well as the White House. As the administration debated its strategy in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and national security adviser James Jones publicly upbraided McChrystal, who is seeking a major increase in forces, for stating in a speech in London that a shift to a smaller US presence and a narrower focus on killing al-Qaeda terrorists would be "shortsighted." ...

More at The Washington Post.


I think this a very strange article. A large part of it reads like the first installment of a denunciation of Gen Petraeus, with words and phrases like "finagled", "wormed his way", portraying him as rushing to fill political vacuumns (only to be reigned in by the CPA) and finally the left handed concession "But even his critics conceded that he got things done."

It reminds me of things that happened in evil times in lands far over the sea. First comes the article in the party paper criticizing an accomplished soldier who has displeased someone somehow, then.... I certainly don't think ... will happen but I wonder if the article is trying to tell Gen Petraeus that there are people who would prefer that he go away.

JMB (not verified)

Sun, 10/11/2009 - 10:49am

I would argue that the surge in Iraq in early to mid-2007, the U.S. Marines' concerted COIN in Al Anbar from early 2006 to 2008, and Zarqawi's death in July 2006 all contributed to turning the tide in Iraq. More specifically, I think that before we abandon population-control premised COIN in OEF for some other strategic/political initiative, we ought to give OEF a surge, as Gen McChrystal wants. If we put 40k more troops in place, bringing US levels to 110k+ and overall NATO force levels to around 150k, focus our efforts at establishing FOBs and patrol bases inside of major population centers, berm some key towns, and build a few schools and repair some roads, we might just be able to lock cities and populations down, restrict the guerrilla's freedom of movement and thereby limit his freedom to act at a time and place of his choosing. The probable ensuing stability could be the thing we need to get buy-in from locals and push them towards a tipping point; I suspect that the guerrilla's nimbleness and elusiveness in hitting and running to the clefts is impressing locals.

It--turning the tide--happened in Al Anbar, despite claims that it couldn't be done. Certainly the tribal dynamic in OEF is worlds more primitive and entrenched that that in Iraq, but we ought to try this modus before beating a strategic retreat.

For those like myself in Al Anbar in 2006-2007, this very thing worked very well. Certainly SAA's rise was instrumental in the success but population control/de facto martial law/measured civil inconvenience began turning the tide in 2006 in key cities like Haditha/Al Qaim/Ramadi.

Gen McChrystal is right to remove these outposts that do little to interdict those crossing the AFPak border, while attracting kinetic attacks like flies to a porch lamp. Let's scrap these vulnerable COPs and get into the cities and engage these people. I do not want to start an inter-service flurry here, but it seems that the USMC better understands this at a tactical level, than our Army brothers. The irony is that it's Army generals who are out front pushing the very COIN strategy that has worked against another Islamic insurgency already.