November 9, 2012

Petraeus Resigns Over Affair With Biographer, Gets Away Easy

Given the non-military circumstances, The Trench has little to say in reaction to David Petraeus's resignation from the CIA's Directorship. Jokes can be left to others - more unconventional thinking is better suited here.

That Petraeus's star will momentarily dip appears inevitable, and any political involvement in 2016's election is now remote, but his career arc has by no means collapsed. Shielded by thick political insulation, Petraeus is already riding off into Washington's sunset as an unquestioned American hero and genius of war. As a result, neutral examination of his policies while overseeing CENTCOM, NATO's alliance in Afghanistan and the CIA is being buried under greater amounts of dirt. Surely Petraeus did some personal good during his stints, but his geopolitical record contains major gaps that his bosses have an interest in concealing.

President Barack Obama's statement did not include the reason for termination: "By any measure, he was one of the outstanding General officers of his generation, helping our military adapt to new challenges, and leading our men and women in uniform through a remarkable period of service in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he helped our nation put those wars on a path to a responsible end."

Iraq's Long War

Petraeus broke no new ground in the study or application of counterinsurgency, so much as provide the willingness lacking in Washington's political and military circles. Himself a political-military hybrid, Petraeus employed his so-called "anaconda" during George Bush's surge to choke all military and non-military sources of an insurgency's energy. This strategy would manifest in temporary agreements between Baghdad and Iraq's sectarian actors, namely the Sunni tribes in the west and Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia. At face value the surge did dramatically reduce Iraq's level of violence - however it did not end the war responsibly. Many factors of strife were left uncorrected by Petraeus, the Bush administration and eventually the Obama administration.

As of now U.S. policy remains trapped in Nouri al-Maliki's corner, usurped of its dominance by Tehran's influence and bleeding credibility with the Kurds. This unpopular alliance has wrecked any hope of repairing national relations with Sunni leadership, while al-Sadr is cooperating with the Sunnis and Kurds to contain al-Maliki's autocratic tendencies. al-Qaeda in Iraq revived itself amid this turmoil, killing thousands of Iraqis after U.S. troops exited in December 2011, and is now feeding off the backend of Syria's revolution.

"His inspirational leadership and his genius were directly responsible - after years of failure - for the success of the surge in Iraq," Sen. John McCain said Friday.

Implementing the surge itself differs from the war's endgame.

Afghanistan's Open, Bleeding end

Petraeus's failure to create permanent "momentum" in Afghanistan is easier to explain. Having told Obama in the final moments of his own surge's approval that he could complete the mission within its limits (as commander of CENTCOM), Petraeus soon discovered that he lacked the time and resources to do so. The 18-month time limit placed on Obama's surge, as approved by Petraeus, remains GOP fodder for anti-Obama rhetoric; a lower amount of troops than requested - between 40,000 and 60,000 - further crippled Obama's surge at its launch. Due to a lack of forces, Petraeus was forced to concentrate in the southern provinces and never implemented the second phase of Obama's surge in Afghanistan's eastern mountains. This dilemma allowed the Taliban to remain operational in both areas, and the insurgency's ranks continue to be estimated in the 20,000s.

Shortages of ground forces also contributed to an extraordinary amount of airstrikes and Special Operations raids, which became Washington's primary kinetic tools against the Taliban. Blowback from a relatively minor number of incidents (the alleged 2% that kill innocents) would severely impair Petraeus's public outreach to the Afghan people.

Meanwhile Afghanistan's political factors remain more stagnant than the battlefield's. Relations with Islamabad were never seriously repaired during Petraeus's run in Afghanistan and Pakistan. President Hamid Karzai has yet to reach a genuine relationship with Washington, and both capitals' negotiations with the Taliban are treading deep waters. The result: thousands upon thousands of dead Taliban and no sight of the war's "responsible" end.

As for Paula Broadwell, Petraeus's biographer and mistress, she found herself involved in the controversial razing of several Afghan villages. Fortunately this subject appears to be gaining new life.

Yemen's Rampage

In January 2010, six months before leaving CENTCOM to command ISAF, Petraeus intensified Washington's unseemly affair with Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh. The resulting deal to target al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has killed many innocent Yemenis in the process, and contributed to Washington's general subversion of Yemen's national affairs. Director Petraeus later returned to negotiate a "secret" CIA base with Saleh, a project that the Obama administration accelerated once Yemen's revolution began in January 2011. Few men are more responsible for America's militarization in Yemen, a policy that runs contrary to COIN's non-military emphasis.

U.S. officials and loyal analysts argue that Saleh offered a necessary partnership against AQAP, but the notoriously wily dictator obstructed both governments' responses in order to continue receiving U.S. and Saudi support. Petraeus and the White House chose to play along with this scam, as it benefitted the self-interests of both parties, and Petraeus was duly rewarded for his personal efforts. Following his rise atop the CIA, the Obama administration managed to swap Saleh for his more obedient vice president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, and proceeded with their original plans. Three weeks after Petraeus entered the CIA, U.S.-Yemeni citizen Anwar al-Alwaki was located by several drones and terminated in a flurry of Hellfire missiles.

His 16-year old son, Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi, was bombed two weeks later at a barbecue.

America generally cheered the first assassination and drowned out those protesting a constitutional breach. The U.S. mainstream media, which eagerly broadcast al-Alwaki's death, then buried his son's assassination. The Obama administration's policy marches onward and remains as unpopular as ever in Yemen - keeping AQAP alive. Naturally U.S. and Gulf operations must continue scaling up in response.

Washington's way of doing business has a more difficult time explaining an affair than the murder of innocent children. Unlike some other commentators, The Trench believes that Petraeus will bounce back and potentially reach greater heights in the future. Individuals and groups operating in Washington always have need for his type of services.

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