Saturday, September 22, 2007

General Petraeus - Honor and Reputation

General David Petraeus's recent ad about "General Betrayus" is way out of line. It is the natural result of the unfortunate rhetorical use of our "troops" as props for political debate. "Support the troops" has become a debating tool, used as both a sword and a shield, by many of our politicos, pundits, and other persons of influence who should know better.
General Petraeus is living in Baghdad these days. He commands our troops there. That is, when he's not being ordered to fly back to D.C. for a political photo-op. Oops, I mean to consult with the President and Important Congressional Leaders. Apparently, using a video conference to give these briefings that would allow the General to stay on-site in Baghdad, and keep focused the job he has at hand, is not adequate. A video conference would probably not get as much tv time for the politicians. Such are the priorities of Washington.
I've flown on military air transport from Bahrain to Boston. It took four days. Flying back only took two. I'm sure the General gets better flight schedules than that, but still, it is a long, tiring flight, and important time out of theater for the man in charge. It is happening more than it should, and it does not help our troops.
General Petraeus is all-Army. If you don't know what that means, these are times when it is important to understand. Allow me to recommend a book, Once An Eagle, by Anton Myrer. I read it as a teenage boy and it is a book that can make a deep impression about the principles of our military. It's available on Amazon.
Regarding our General, let's consider an old military motto, "death before dishonor." This is an expression that few would say out loud these days. But to many career military men,
dying a heroic death fighting for their country is the choice they would make over retiring as a failure. And our General is a career military man. He is a man with a mission. A mission to succeed. He was not ordered to try hard, or to just do his best. He was ordered to accomplish a mission. And he'll keep at it until he succeeds or dies trying. Unless he is told to stop.
This is why the ad by was a low blow. (Trivia for non-sport's fans who've always wondered what this means - "low blow" is a boxing term that means a punch to the lower abdomen, nearing the family jewels. It is not only against the rules, but is considered unsportsmanlike, cheating, and "fighting dirty.") Moveon's belief that this was OK comes from a pervasive misunderstanding, shared by many Americans, of the military's role in America and American politics.
Military officers are taught from day 1 not to become involved in politics. They are taught to keep their political views to themselves, and not to comment if present at a political discussion. They accept this restriction with pride as a part of the purity of the sacrifices that they make for their country. This mentality is why our generals look so uncomfortable when being asked by Congress or the President what our national policy should be. It is not their job to tell the President or Congress what to do. And it is inappropriate to request it of them.
General Petraeus' brief article in the Washington Post was direct and focused on what had been accomplished recently in training, equipping, and deploying Iraqi security forces. We don't know everything else he told the President. But, the context of his public brief is that he has been given an assignment to go to Iraq, quell the violence as much as he can, and train up the Iraqis as much as possible.
He's got all the resources he's going to get, and he knows it. There ain't no more troops. The DOD is already involuntarily pulling Naval Reservist sailors up for active duty as regular ground soldiers at security check points. This is referred to as being a "bullet sponge." Who's next on the list of available military manpower? Postal workers? (One is tempted to wonder how the Texas Air National Guard is fairing these days.)
So, General Petraeus has a job to do. So he is doing it to the best of his ability. That is what he reported on.
What else did people expect? That he would come back and say, "Holy cow! That whole place has gone to hell in a handbasket! We better get our boys out of there or someone's gonna get hurt!" Of course not.
Inherent in the context of his report is a drive and commitment to succeed. That is what has made him a great General. You don't get 4 stars for nothing. The last thing any of us is going to see from any decent military officer as a response to an order is, "Well, I'll try it for a couple of months, but if it's too hard I'll come back and let you know." Any expectation that there was a possibility of that happening is insane.
And no flag officer is going to come back and say, "Unfortunately, despite being provided the full support of the US Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, I will be unable to defeat the Mahdi Army, an untrained, unpaid, ununiformed street gang with a few thousand members, equipped with small arms and home-made bombs. Those guys are just too tough."
General Petraeus is one of the troops. He will fight until he is told to stop, just like the rest of the Army.
President Bush is hiding behind the troops, politically. He is their leader, and he is misusing them.
The same with Congress.
Either the President or Congress, each without the other, could get us out of this war if either decided to do so. Their protests that it is too hard to get out are not true.
The President has decided to stay. It's the wrong choice. But at least he made a decision.
But Congress, and the Democrats, having been given a clear electoral mandate by the people to end the war, continues to dither.
We are told we cannot just leave, it will take at least a year. We've addressed this fallacy here before. It is NONSENSE. It's the Army! It's built to move! If China invaded Hawaii tomorrow you'd see how fast we can move those troops out of Iraq.
Here's some perspective. There are 130,000 troops in Iraq. Here in Atlanta, guess how many passengers go through the airport every day. Answer: 280,000. One is tempted to think that we could get them all home in just one day if we really wanted to. And we would only have to use one US airport.
Of course, that would require some national and political will.