Petraeus as General and Our Ruling Class

Ruth King offers a withering summary of Petraeus’ military career. Her assessment seems spot on to me.

Petraeus is typical of our top military leadership. The “cursus honorum“ for officers aspiring to high rank has little to do with the martial virtues. The path to power in our armed forces has two critical components: first, make sure you always profess your faith in the ideology of the ruling class; second, spend as much time near the source of power in Washington and obtaining advanced degrees from prestigious civilian institutions as possible. The two are, of course, related. The degrees from prestigious universities certify one’s knowledge of and adherence to the consensus animating our elites.

The strategy that Petraeus helped to devise for Iraq and Afghanistan is a manifest failure. As Angelo Codevilla points out (in the essay linked above and in Advice to War Presidents), the ideology of the ruling class is antithetical to victory in war.

We see this with the fruits of the “surge” in Iraq and the attempt to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda training camps have reappeared in Iraq. The destruction of Iraq’s Christian community, the ongoing sectarian violence between Muslims, and the increasingly close relationship between Iraq and Iran are other manifestations of the failure of the surge managed by Petraeus.

Winning hearts and mind in Afghanistan is, if anything, an even bigger failure. The steady stream of Afghan “allies” murdering NATO soldiers is evidence of our lack of progress towards victory. The disastrous recent attack on Camp Bastion demonstrates the lack of success of the Petraeus strategy.

Waging war successfully is not a criterion for advancement to the senior ranks of our military. This accounts for the prominence of generals like Petraeus and Powell.

I believe the events leading to Petraeus’ resignation show that I was correct in my earlier assessment of Petraeus’ character. He is a dishonorable man. He was unfaithful to his wife and unfaithful in his duties. His dishonest characterization of the Benghazi debacle and his willingness to help the Obama administration hinder the Congressional investigation of 9/11/12  are part of the same pattern of bad character as his infidelity to his marriage vows. 

Petraeus had the time to send thousands of e-mails to his former mistress in the last several months, but he could not be bothered to tell the truth to Congress or fulfill his duty to do everything in his power to secure the rights of the American citizens murdered in Benghazi.

The affair was not merely a private citizen falling from grace. A man with a huge trust carried out a long-term, illicit affair in violation not only of general decency but of rules he was charged with enforcing. I wonder how many officers under Petraeus’ command in the Army were sanctioned for conduct unbecoming under his authority? How would a lower-level CIA employee have fared if he violated the rules governing security under Petraeus? Why do we think that resignation is some kind of punishment? Why is he not facing further sanctions, such as reduction in his military rank?

Petraeus’ lack of concern for duty, honor, and country is astonishing. What this shows us about the state of soul in our elite should trouble anyone concerned with the security of American rights and the perpetuation of our liberties.

  1. RCE

    Iraq and Afghanistan are both political, not military, failures. It is thus a non sequitur to blame the military command.

    How can any force achieve a military victory in the absence of a political aim?

  2. SoMS

     Or, the general is a man who wanted to serve his country and didn’t care about politics. We won’t know whether Ruth King’s assessment is correct until more information comes to light. 

    There’s too much instant punditry this week for my taste. We’ve been surprised by the election results and now by the general’s revelation. It takes more than a single news report to change my opinion. We’ll hear plenty about the general’s affair in the days to come. There will be plenty of time later to form a new opinion, if that’s what the information calls for.

    By the way, Ruth King seems to suggest that the general’s career lacks credibility because he didn’t participate in combat as a junior officer. He entered the army during the last full year in Vietnam (he graduated in 1974 and we left in 1975) and was promoted to LtCol just after Desert Storm started (1991). In those years the U.S. wasn’t involved in any wars. 

  3. John Grant
    C

    Yes, my point is that Petraeus is entirely on board with the political aims which preclude victory.

    I actually read his doctoral dissertation. Like Powell, he is concerned not with winning, but with having an “exit strategy.”

    RCE: Iraq and Afghanistan are both political, not military, failures. It is thus anon sequitur to blame the military command.

    How can any force achieve a military victory in the absence of a political aim? · 27 minutes ago

  4. John Grant
    C

    He cares a lot about politics–read his dissertation. You don’t spend all that time hanging out in Washington if you don’t like politics!

    If Petraeus was really interested in serving his country, he would not have sent thousands of emails in several months (!) to his (former?) lover. Think if he had instead spent his energies trying to figure out what was happening in Libya rather than agonizing over his crush on Broadwell like a love-sick 15 year old boy.

    SoMS:  Or, the general is a man who wanted to serve his country and didn’t care about politics. We won’t know whether Ruth King’s assessment is correct until more information comes to light. 

    There’s too much instant punditry this week for my taste. We’ve been surprised by the election results and now by the general’s revelation. It takes more than a single news report to change my opinion. We’ll hear plenty about the general’s affair in the days to come. There will be plenty of time later to form a new opinion, if that’s what the information calls for.

    .  · 25 minutes ago

  5. Karen

    So you don’t like Petraeus. We get it. But here’s something you fail to realize, Mr. Grant: you have no idea what Gen. Petraeus said during that closed door hearing. That testimony is classified and that Democratic congressman whose word you seem to take as gospel cannot, under law, divulge classified testimony. What is dishonorable is that you take it as fact that Petraeus corroborated Obama’s story on Benghazi, when you have no evidence to back it up. Gen. Petraeus spent his career in public service, and as much as I detest his marital infidelity, it does not diminish my appreciation of his courage, leadership and personal sacrifice to this nation. I was reading recently that Ben Franklin fathered an illegitimate child. Does Franklin’s moral failings diminish his contributions to our nation’s founding? Finally, before you indict every senior military officer who assisted in planning our involement in OEF/OIF you owe it to them and every service member who served under them, including my husband, a more substantive, persuasive, and informed argument – on this of all days.

  6. SpinozaCarWash

    John Grant shows he has the courage to slay sacred cows.

  7. Manfred Arcane
    John Grant: 

    The strategy that Petraeus helped to devise for Iraq and Afghanistan is a manifest failure.

    We see this with the fruits of the “surge” in Iraq and the attempt to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida training camps have reappeared in Iraq. The destruction of Iraq’s Christian community, … are other manifestations of the failure of the surge managed by Petraeus.

    Winning hearts and mind in Afghanistan is if anything an even bigger failure. The steady stream of Afghan “allies” murdering NATO soldiers …. demonstrates the lack of success of the Petraeus strategy.

    I’m sorry but this post is obscene, positively pornographic.  I don’t know the credentials of the poster, but I have worked in the defense industry for multiple decades and I am nauseated by the infantile statements made here.  The Surge was successful by any intelligent analysis.  Let me educate the gentleman in question, a) you can not attribute failure to generals in all instances where immanent victory in war is not brought to culmination by politicians, b) that we evacuated Iraq so precipitously when any other competent leadership would have remained to succor the fragile roots of the crop they had seeded.

  8. AIG

    Oh boy. So yesterday the Surge was a great success, today the Surge is a great failure. Yesterday Petraeus was an American hero being considered for political office by the GOP, today he is a shill for Obama. You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t indulge in this sort of smearing of a person simply because of his own personal, and I stress personal, issues. 

    PS: As for his doctoral dissertation or military merits, I’m sorry but I don’t think you, or I, are in a position to be judging them. 

  9. Jim  Ixtian

    John, excellent post. This nation does have ruling class problem. In essence, they’ve adopted the very vices of aristocracy that we saw in Europe at the time of our Revolution. I’d also add that in trying to explain the actions of the ruling class one barometer is to examine the views of of their wives as a fail-safe indicator of the man’s own view. Cherchez la femme…Probably not pertinent to Petraeus, but I find that generally it does hold true the more one examines our ruling class in Washington DC.

  10. Nitwit MN

    What I suspect is that if the tesitmony Petraeus offered differed significantly from accounts other administration officials offered, we would have heard about that too. 

    Karen:  (extract) “Mr. Grant: you have no idea what Gen. Petraeus said during that closed door hearing. That testimony is classified and that Democratic congressman whose word you seem to take as gospel cannot, under law, divulge classified testimony.” (end)

    He may have felt compelled to offer testimony in alignment with the administration’s narrative if he found himself compromised.

  11. Douglas

    There are a lot of vets that will tell you “never trust anyone over O-6″. There’s a sense among many that General and Flag officers cease to be soldiers and become politicians.

  12. SpinozaCarWash

    The path to the apex of the military is scarcely different from the path in any bureaucracy.

    Douglas: There are a lot of vets that will tell you “never trust anyone over O-6″. There’s a sense among many that General and Flag officers cease to be soldiers and become politicians. · in 0 minutes

  13. John Grant
    C

    Karen,

    Under law General Petraeus should not have been having an affair (see Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice).

    Even if Petraeus couldn’t speak openly about his testimony, he could have made a statement about what actually happened. He could have resigned in protest at the lies of the administration.

    He could also have been focusing on his job instead of sending massive number of emails to his former lover. You are indignant at my characterization of Petraeus; I am indignant that four Americans died through the incompetence of Petraeus and other senior officials. Two of those men were the direct responsibility of Petraeus: they were _his men_. And he could not be bothered to attend their funerals or make sure their families heard the truth about the cause of their death.

     

  14. Neolibertarian

    John Grant:

    Petraeus is typical of our top military leadership. The “cursus honorum” for officers aspiring to high rank has little to do with the martial virtues. The path to power in our armed forces has two critical components: first, make sure you always profess your faith in the ideology of the ruling class; second, spend as much time near the source of power in Washington and obtaining advanced degrees from prestigious civilian institutions as possible. The two are of course related. The degrees from prestigious universities certify one’s knowledge of and adherence to the consensus animating our elites.

    “Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”

    We see this with the fruits of the “surge” in Iraq and the attempt to win hearts and minds in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida training camps have reappeared in Iraq. 

    You can’t fool me. There is no such thing as “al-Qaeda.”

    Qutubism is an ideology, not an organization. The cross training capabilities existed because of the Pasdaran and Hizbullah.

    The ideology stands. The cross training is still going on. The golden stream still flows.

    This is how it ends, not with a bang, but a…well, you know.

  15. John Grant
    C

    I have never maintained that the surge was a success or that Petraeus was a hero. I have many faults, but I haven’t joined a fickle mob here.

    Your comment about Petraeu’s dissertation is interesting to me. Why do you think neither of us could read it and pass a competent judgment? You might read it and come to a different conclusion than me–fine. Maybe you could make an argument that would convince me.

    I am not willing to say that non-experts cannot pass judgment on political and military matters. Why have elections then?

    AIG: Oh boy. So yesterday the Surge was a great success, today the Surge is a great failure. Yesterday Petraeus was an American hero being considered for political office by the GOP, today he is a shill for Obama. You’ll have to excuse me if I don’t indulge in this sort of smearing of a person simply because of his own personal, and I stress personal, issues. 

    PS: As for his doctoral dissertation or military merits, I’m sorry but I don’t think you, or I, are in a position to be judging them.  · 31 minutes ago

  16. She

    That’s an interesting post.  I realize that David Petraeus and many others in the military power structure today have not had many ‘opportunities’ for first-hand combat, and promotion through valor on the battlefield.  And I can’t help wondering if this inevitably leads to the same sort of disconnect for them that folks who think that fish begins as a frozen white lump in a plastic bag, or that hot dogs just start out that way have, when they finally come face-to-face with their food supply on the hoof or in the water.  Maybe that’s why so many of them seem squeamish about ‘victory,’ or are apparently so unprepared to deal with the human cost of war.

    I feel sorry for Petraeus.  And his wife.  I think he’s done his best.  And, like the rest of us, he’s not perfect. But I think there are many inconsistencies (to use a polite word) in this story that need to be explored and explained.

    Beyond that, I just don’t think we know how to fight wars any more.  And I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

    Lord, I miss Stormin’ Norman.

  17. AIG

    I have never maintained that the surge was a success or that Petraeus was a hero. 

    I was speaking in general, not necessarily to something you had said. Your sentiments are echoed by a lot of other people on the right. I find it unsettling that people are in such a hunger for finding scapegoats for everything that is wrong in the world. It always has to be someone’s fault?

    Maybe you could make an argument that would convince me. I am not willing to say that non-experts cannot pass judgment on political and military matters. 

    A military issue is not a political issue. It is a technical issue. You, or I, cannot pass judgement on a dissertation in bio-chemistry, and yet we can when it comes to something equally as complex as war? E.g., saying that the aim of a war is to “win”, and not to “exit”, is a rhetorical not a substantive argument. Winning, by definition, implies getting out of a war. But neither of us have the capacity to define what winning is, how it ought to be achieved, or measured. It is context specific, and in Iraq, winning= getting out. 

  18. Xennady

    I’m glad someone is finally noticing that there is a problem.

    It doesn’t matter how brave American soldiers are, how much they sacrifice, or how much money we spend on the military when it is commanded by officers who advance to high rank by thoroughly marinating themselves in leftist dogma at the thoroughly leftist university system.

    Petraeus commanded in Iraq while George Bush was president, yet imposed rules of engagement that could have been written by Warren Christopher. Many times I’ve seen anecdotes posted online about how US troops were and are not allowed to shoot back except under certain carefully selected circumstances.

    Many Americans have died because of this- and the end result now is that our soldiers face real danger of being murdered by our so-called Afghan allies.

    This is what failure looks like.

    It will have consequences, and no doubt already has.

    I say Petraeus should be court-martialed for his lawbreaking. But of course he won’t be, because accountability is for the little people.

  19. Mafuta Kizola
    SoMS:  

    There’s too much instant punditry this week for my taste. 

    Maybe a pundit mandatory cool off period should be instituted ?

  20. Xennady
    AIG

     I find it unsettling that people are in such a hunger for finding scapegoats for everything that is wrong in the world. It always has to be someone’s fault?

    This is called “accountability”. If nothing else Petraeus should be held accountable for his inability to keep his pants zipped.

    AIG

    A military issue is not a political issue. It is a technical issue.

    Huh? Can you recognize when a building is on fire, or do you need to be told by an architect?

    And if you believe yourself incapable of passing judgement on military affairs then perhaps you should not comment in threads about military affairs.

    Look: I make no claim to be any sort of expert about logistics or tactics or strategy- but I think I am competent enough to notice when things aren’t going well. We’ve been mucking around in Afghanistan for a decade plus- and have achieved roughly nothing.

    Unless and until we are willing to directly confront Pakistan we are wasting our time and the lives of our soldiers. Petraeus should know this. Yet he says nothing about it, perhaps because he has spent so much time emailing his mistress.

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