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.