Small Wars Journal

Book: Petraeus almost quit over Afghan drawdown

Thu, 12/29/2011 - 7:42am

Book: Petraeus almost quit over Afghan drawdown

Four-star general-turned-CIA director David Petraeus almost resigned as Afghanistan war commander over President Barack Obama's decision to quickly draw down surge forces, according to a new insider's look at Petraeus' 37-year Army career.

Petraeus decided that resigning would be a "selfish, grandstanding move with huge political ramifications" and that now was "time to salute and carry on," according to a forthcoming biography.

Author and Petraeus confidante Paula Broadwell had extensive access to the general in Afghanistan and Washington for "All In: The Education of General David Petraeus," due from Penguin Press in January. The Associated Press was given an advance copy.



Sat, 12/31/2011 - 2:07pm

In reply to by gian gentile


I think you may be seeing things that aren't there. Now isn't the exact start point of the campaign. It has been going on for months and the Republican candidates have been criticizing Mr. Obama for months.

As far as Afghanistan goes, the deadline part has been a point of severe contention since it was announced. Since then it seems to have become more and more apparent that that was a serious mistake. That has been going on for years. It didn't just pop up last week.

I don't think what some shelved general has to say about the war will affect the election at all. That is going to depend on the economy.

gian gentile

Sat, 12/31/2011 - 10:09am

In reply to by Don Bacon


Right, but it all still seems to me to be a collective effort by a number of individuals to cast Iraq and Afghanistan as being "lost" by a President who did not listen to his generals hence my use of the Ripper quote. I do not see this as a simple coincidence coming out exactly at the start point of the 2012 presidential campaign.

As to referring to Ms Broadwell as Dr., well I might be mistaken but i thought this book was originally her PhD dissertation at Harvard, and by using the title i am assuming that she has had it awarded to her, but i might be wrong.


Don Bacon

Fri, 12/30/2011 - 2:09pm

In reply to by carl

Broadwell tweet:
paulabroadwell @conncarroll Txs for covering this and correcting the headline; #Petraeus did not consider resigning, though he was urged to do so!


Fri, 12/30/2011 - 2:02pm

In reply to by Don Bacon

There is nothing in the NPR blurb that was not in the original story. Both state the Gen Petraeus did not consider resigning. But that seems to be a bit in conflict with what Ms. Dozier has written. She apparently read the book. And after reading the book she wrote that friends urged the general to resign but he didn't because it was time to salute and carry on. Those two statements, taken together, indicate to me that Gen Petraeus thought something very wrong with the policy proposed. Maybe friends of his were in the habit of urging him to resign every time something came up that they didn't like. Maybe, but I would guess probably not. It seems more likely that somebody urging something as drastic as resignation would only do so after the general expressed some sentiment to them that would cause them to urge the drastic course. Also, use of the phrase salute and carry on, which was in quotes, would only make sense if a resignation was contemplated.

This is one of those things that may never be fully resolved since there are so many rice bowls involved. Personally, I don't think it makes Gen Petraeus look good at all.

Don Bacon

Fri, 12/30/2011 - 1:15pm

oooops -
Petraeus Did Not Consider Quitting Over Afghan Drawdown, Author Says

December 29, 2011 An Associated Press report about Paula Broadwell's new book led with the "news" that Petraeus "almost resigned." But that was wrong. Friends encouraged him to do that, she says, but Petraeus did not consider it.

also-- Paula Broadwell (Gian likes to refer to her as Dr. Broadwell) has a website to promote her laudatory book of the man who gave us COIN -- hurrah

"All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.
Paula Broadwell and Vernon Loeb examine Petraeus’s career, his intellectual development as a military officer, and his impact on the U.S. military. Inherent in the story are salient lessons of transformational leadership -- inspirational insights for everyone from CEOs to young lieutenants. . .Broadwell takes readers through the arc of his "intellectual developent. . .Broadwell ultimately appraises Petraeus's impact on the entire U.S. military, including his role in galvanizing institutional adaptation."


Fri, 12/30/2011 - 2:22am

Firstly, let me state this debate is way out of my lane, out of my league, and over my paygrade. Secondly, let me state that I find it very interesting and am curious about a few things:

1. The quote from the article states the General believed resigning would have produced huge political ramifications. Well, what are those ramifications? Are those addressed? Are we to infer that he considered political ramifications to be on the same level of importance as strategy, mission accomplishment, and future of OEF?

2. The decision to resign or not - if it was a CPT Jones and not GEN Petraeus, would this matter? What exactly is the role of a General Officer? At what point do they cross or approach the line separating Soldier and Statesman?


Fri, 12/30/2011 - 9:22pm

In reply to by Don Bacon

We could go round and round about definitions on this particular point but it might not be worth the fuss. From reading on this site and many others, I get the idea that when professional military men use words they mean precise things and not neccessarily (sic) the same things civilians understand those words to mean. And seeing as how most people have trouble switching their method of expression back and forth, I am willing to give Gen Petraeus the benefit of the doubt on that point.

You can use what I wrote as you please and I am glad you liked it. I wish though, with all my spirit and soul, that I didn't believe it was true. But I can't deny what we all see and it breaks my heart.

Don Bacon

Fri, 12/30/2011 - 3:33pm

In reply to by carl

Both generals were talking to laymen who don't concern themselves with DOD definitions. The whole tenor of Petraeus's political op-ed was optimistically claiming that 21 Iraqi battalions would be operational in a couple months whereas a full year later Casey said that only one battalion could operate without US help. Most people, if not everyone, would rightfully conclude that operational, without any qualification, means what it says -- "In or ready for use." If Petraeus meant "with US help" he should have said so.

We've gone through a similar confusion recently with General Caldwell who learned at Petraeus's knee. He's been totally misrepresenting the quality of the ANA and he particularly got tripped up when he described all those kandaks as operating independently, then had to say: "But when I say 'independently,' I don’t want to mislead anybody. It does not mean they have absolutely no coalition support."

What the hey, let's look at DOD definitions for "operationally ready"
(DOD) 1. A unit, ship, or weapon system capable of performing the missions or functions for which organized or designed. Incorporates both equipment readiness and personnel readiness.
(DOD) 2. Personnel available and qualified to perform assigned missions or functions.

Finally, I appreciate your lucid agreement on Pakistan and commanders' dereliction of duty. I wish I'd said that! Hey, I'll copy it and use it, why not. Change a few words. It's that good. Totally on.


Fri, 12/30/2011 - 2:23pm

In reply to by Don Bacon

That single point may or may not have been dishonest depending upon what Gen Ptraeus was talking about and what Gen Casey was talking about. Until you show me that they were both using the same definitions, there is no evidence of dishonesty concerning that particular point.

As far as participating in the lie that has been our policy toward Pakistan, I agree with you. Gen Petraeus and every other high ranking military commander involved with our effort in Afghanistan has been derelict in their duty, disloyal to their men and to their country for knowingly furthering a lie that has killed Americans and hurt the US. Every one of them who carried on with their jobs despite knowing full well that the Pak Army/ISI was killing our people is a poltroon. Generals carry a special shame in this regard because they have betrayed the loyalty of the honorable men who follow them unto death.

Don Bacon

Fri, 12/30/2011 - 1:36pm

In reply to by carl

That "single point" was a dishonest Op-Ed by a lieutenant general in the Washington Post in the heat of, and having an effect upon, a presidential political campaign during an ongoing conflict.

Regarding his duty in Afghanistan, Petraeus was again dishonest in not officially recognizing, and taking appropriate action on, the incongruity that General McChrystal expressed in his August 2009 assessment regarding Pakistan support for people killing US troops, as well as the detrimental effect of India's activities in Afghanistan, both of which continue to this day.

from McChrystal's assessment:
'Afghanistan's insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan. . .and are reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan's ISI [Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence ]."

"Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant efforts and financial investment. In addition, the current Afghan government is perceived by Islamabad to be pro-Indian. While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India."///

We didn't hear officially about the Pakistan problem until Admiral Mullen recently referred to it just prior to his retirement. Finally after a couple years and many deaths, the s**t has hit the fan and the U.S. has recognized the Pakistan problem.


Fri, 12/30/2011 - 12:26am

In reply to by gian gentile


Mr. Bacon's point as I understood it was that Gen Petraeus was dishonest and he based that upon a single point. I questioned the validity of that point since it appeared that the things being compared appeared to have been different things.

The thing you are commenting upon seems to be much broader than that.

Anybody who has been paying attention knows that any kind of "stab in the back" story isn't going to hold. The betwixt and between thing that we did with half a buildup combined with a deadline, sort of, was maybe the worst of both worlds; but the professional military establishment will have plenty of things to answer for if Afghanistan goes further south than it has.

One of those things is Gen. Petraeus' decision not to resign. I don't think it sets him up as a foiled hero. I think it sets him up as a man whose character ultimately failed him. He had a chance to do the right thing, and he didn't do it. Nobody thinks well of Gen. Johnson (I think that is who it was) because he didn't tender his resignation when he thought he should have. They feel sorry for him because his nerve failed him and he lived his whole life regretting that it did. I see Gen Petraeus as having been in a similar situation and what he choose not to do reflects very poorly on him.

gian gentile

Thu, 12/29/2011 - 8:33pm

Carl, I believe that Don is right on this one.

Now we have this biography by Dr Broadwell that with it emphasizing the issue of the general considering resigning over his disagreement with policy what we have is the stab-in-the-back story brewing, and the call that President Obama "lost Afghanistan" because he didn’t do what his generals wanted.

Shoot, the Surgedinistas are already claiming he "lost Iraq" and has forfeited the so-called gains of the Surge.

Remember that scene from Dr Strangelove where General Jack D Ripper (perverting Clemenceau's maxim) states that "war now is too important to be left up to the politicians."

Fortunately, Ms Kim Dozier makes clear what this book is really about (which after reading her review is not a balanced, critical biography of the general) with these sentences:

"...Co-authored with The Washington Post's Vernon Loeb, the nearly 400-page biography is part history lesson through Petraeus' eyes, part hagiography and part defense of the counterinsurgency strategy he applied in both wars...The book unapologetically casts Petraeus in the hero's role, as in this description of the Afghanistan campaign: 'There was a new strategic force released on Kabul: Petraeus' will.'"

Really Paula, really? One man can do all of this, the "force"? come on, this reads as the inverse of Lewis Sorley's new and deeply flawed biography of Westmoreland and the idea that in these limited wars of choice, fought under failed strategy, just put the right guy in charge and that will fix everything.

Fortunately Lady Kim Dozier has scene the hard face of war and can see through the smoke screen of this biography.



Thu, 12/29/2011 - 6:29pm

In reply to by Don Bacon

Aren't you comparing apples to oranges? Unless Gen Petraeus, in the op-ed you quote, was talking about Level 1 readiness battalions as defined by Gen Casey, they were talking about two different things.

I can only judge from the AP story but if Gen Petraeus considered resigning he must have thought that the policy was going to be very bad for the US, fundamentally flawed. That is exactly the time not to salute and carry on. Resigning would have been the hard thing to do. Not resigning is much easier on a personal level. One of the big problems with American generals is they never don't salute and carry on. We'd be much better off if one of them would actually act on his belief about what was good for the country instead of hiding behind the "salute and carry on" bit and insuring that his personal life continued to be easy.

Don Bacon

Thu, 12/29/2011 - 1:08pm

I wonder if Paula Broadwell, who has been flacking for Petraeus for some time now, will be truthful about how he first came to public notice, thereby laying the foundation for his promotions.

Petraeus headed the Iraq Security Transition Command Jun 2004--Sep 2005. After he had been in charge of training the Iraqi Army for three months, he famously wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post which was published in September 2004.

During a crucial time in the presidential campaign, when Kerry said Iraq was headed south, Petraeus's piece was a rosy prediction of things to come. “Six battalions of the Iraqi regular army and the Iraqi Intervention Force are now conducting operations. . .Within the next 60 days, six more regular army and six additional Intervention Force battalions will become operational. . . Nine more regular army battalions will complete training in January”


Sep 2005–Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who oversees U.S. forces in Iraq, said there are fewer Iraqi battalions at “Level 1 readiness than there were a few months ago. . . The number of Iraqi army battalions that can fight insurgents without U.S. and coalition help has dropped from three to one, top U.S. generals told Congress yesterday.

From 21 battalions to one. Quite a drop.

Of course Petraeus had the last laugh when he later replaced Casey and then moved up another notch to CENTCOM, proving that truth has no relevance in warfare, and may even be detrimental.