‘General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq’

James Traub writes in the New York Times about General David Petreaus:

The ­55-year-old general is a superachiever who took on all the toughest training assignments and came away with the ­medals, a perfectionist who demands as much from others as from himself and a deeply reflective figure — he has a Ph.D. in international relations from Princeton — who continually adapts to the lessons of experience. Petraeus puts no special store by his gut intuitions; in Iraq, he surrounded himself with junior officers as analytical, and as driven, as he is. Robinson singles out as his greatest gift not leadership but “intellectual rigor,” which compelled him “to mount a sustained effort to understand the problem.”

The problem, which had thoroughly eluded Bush and his chief aides, as well as prior commanding officers up to and including Gen. George Casey, Petraeus’s immediate predecessor, was that no number of American troops would make a lasting difference unless they could affect the Iraqis’ own political calculations. While serving as a commanding officer at Fort Leavenworth in 2006, Petraeus had brought together leading civilian and military thinkers to produce a new version of the Army’s counterinsurgency manual. The document’s central theme was political rather than military: A counterinsurgency can succeed only if it makes the government legitimate in the eyes of its citizens. This requires economic aid, governance reform, improvement in basic services and the like. And it requires an act of understanding, even empathy: “Knowing why an insurgent movement has gained support,” the manual states, “is essential in designing a counterinsurgency campaign.”

Petraeus proceeded to implement his strategy with relentless focus (and those 30,000 extra troops).

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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