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“An Intensely Compacted Hank of Wire”

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The Washington Post profiles General David Petraeus, who will soon be the commander of all forces in Iraq.  Included within it is this quote from General Barry McCaffrey:

“Petraeus is being given a losing hand. I say that reluctantly. The war is unmistakably going in the wrong direction,” retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey said in an interview yesterday. “The only good news in all this is that Petraeus is so incredibly intelligent and creative. . . . I’m sure he’ll say to himself, ‘I’m not going to be the last soldier off the roof of the embassy in the Green Zone.’ “

Deeper in the piece, a friend brands Petraeus as “the most competitive man on the planet.” Then this bit illuminating info:

His intensity, cutting intellect and competitiveness have rubbed some officers the wrong way. Muttered jibes about “King David” have been heard around his command post. He remains obsessive about what he calls “the P.T. culture” — physical training — and has been known to challenge soldiers half his age to various athletic competitions. “If anyone beats him in the shorter runs, four miles or so, he takes them out for 10 miles and smokes them,” a staff officer observed several years ago. At 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds, Petraeus evokes George Bernard Shaw’s description of the British general Bernard L. Montgomery: “an intensely compacted hank of wire.”

A few weeks ago –before the announcement of his promotion by President Bush– General Petraeus  gave an interview to Der Speigel.  One excerpt:

One of the paradoxes, for example, said: The best weapon for counterinsurgency is: Don’t shoot. Well, that’s true if you’re in Mosul and the violence level is low, then you have a situation where you can say, as we used to do: Money is the best ammunition. But it is not true if you’re in a section of Baghdad that is very threatened by violence. Then the best weapon is to shoot, and the best ammunition is real ammunition. Everything depends on the situation, and it is vital that our leaders understand that reality and constantly assess and reassess the situation in their areas of operations

What we simply don’t want anymore is to give people a checklist of what to do. We want them to think, not memorize. You know, a lot of this is about young officers. But we have to be clear with them, they have to know: You must be a warrior first, that is true, that’s why we exist, we exist in many cases to kill or capture the bad guys. But on the other hand, we have to teach them: You’re not going to kill your way out of an insurgency. No: you have to take out the elements that will never reconcile with the new government, with the system, but then try to win over the rest. And this part is not done with tanks and rifles.

And a conclusion about the “long pole in the tent’:

SPIEGEL: What’s your outlook for the Iraqi force and the whole security system of the country?

Petraeus: I think you actually have to ask: What’s the outlook for the Iraqi national government. You know, I don’t have any doubt, and I think we have shown, and the Iraqis have shown, that they can train battalions, brigades, and divisions, they can train national police, which is more challenging, but that’s all doable.

The question is: How long will it take the national unity government to truly foster a sense of national unity and to give the Iraqi security force members a sense that they are fighting for Iraq, for their Iraq rather than drifting off to militias or into sectarian groups or whatever it is. That is the challenge right now for Iraq.

We keep coming back to this national unity issue, that really is the so-called “long pole in the tent.” When it comes to building up ministries and their apparatus, when it comes to recruiting civil servants, you name it, all critical paths run through that critical factor.

General Petraeus is being handed an incredibly difficult challenge, and he will have to go through Senate confirmation to pick up his fourth star that goes with the job, a process the Democrats will speed along with little grandstanding if they are genuinely interested in moving forward to stability in Iraq.  Chairman Levin should keep in mind that the enemy will be as interested in those hearings as the American public, and the messages sent to the general from the members of the committee will also be immediately received by that enemy.

After those hearings, I hope General Petraeus also embraces the idea that part of his theater is the American media’s reporting on it, and that he takes the time on an almost daily basis to communicate with the American public about the stakes and the situation in Iraq.



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