GENERAL PETRAEUS’S PR BLITZKRIEG….I’ve been thinking about the whole David Petraeus issue for the past couple of days, and what I’ve been thinking about is how badly the liberal blogosphere and the liberal establishment have been outplayed here. While we’ve spent the last six months snarking about Friedman Units and complaining aimlessly about spineless Democrats, Petraeus has been slowly and methodically carrying out an extremely disciplined military campaign with a very precise goal: gaining support for David Petraeus and the surge.
In retrospect, this is hardly a surprise. Petraeus is a four-star general, by all accounts a brilliant man, and a professional student of counterinsurgency. He’s keenly aware of the value of both the media and public opinion, and he did what any counterinsurgency expert would have counseled in his circumstances: he unleashed a hearts-and-minds campaign aimed at opinion makers and politicians. For months the military transports to Baghdad have been stuffed with analysts and congress members, and every one of them has gotten a full court press of carefully planned and scripted presentations, tightly controlled visits to favored units, and assorted dollops of “classified” information designed to flatter his guests and substantiate his rosy assessments without the inconvenience of having to defend them in public.
And it’s worked. Even though there’s been no discernable political progress, minimal reconstruction progress, and apparently no genuine decrease in violence, he’s managed to convince an awful lot of people that the first doesn’t matter, the second is far more widespread than it really is, and the third is the opposite of reality. To get a sense of just how long and how carefully Petraeus has been preparing for his August blitz, consider the following three anecdotes. First up is Thursday’s widely reported comment from Rep. Jon Porter about his meetings with Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker:
“To a person, they said there would be genocide, gas prices in the U.S. would rise to eight or nine dollars a gallon, al-Qaida would continue its expansion, and Iran would take over that portion of the world if we leave,” Porter said Wednesday in a phone interview from Las Vegas.
Next is a Washington Post article providing a glimpse of Petraeus’s meticulous and politically savvy planning:
The sheets of paper seemed to be everywhere the lawmakers went in the Green Zone, distributed to Iraqi officials, U.S. officials and uniformed military of no particular rank. So when Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) asked a soldier last weekend just what he was holding, the congressman was taken aback to find out.
In the soldier’s hand was a thumbnail biography, distributed before each of the congressmen’s meetings in Baghdad, which let meeting participants such as that soldier know where each of the lawmakers stands on the war. [See examples here.]
….Just who assembled them is not clear. E-mails to U.S. Central Command’s public affairs office in Baghdad this week went unanswered.
“I had never seen that in the past. That’s new,” said Porter, who was on his fourth trip to Iraq. “Now I want to see what they’re saying about me,” he added, when he learned of the contents of his travel companions’ rap sheets.
For one, the quotations appeared to be selected to divide the visitors into those who are with the war effort and those who are against.
Finally there was this tidbit offered up by Andrea Mitchell five months ago when the surge was just getting started:
MITCHELL: Petraeus went to the Republican caucus and told them, I will have real progress to you by August….The Republicans were against the surge but they felt it was fait accompli, and that they were willing to give Petraeus until August. He told them there will be real progress by August.
Five months ago Petraeus was guaranteeing to wavering Republicans that they’d see progress in August, precisely the month when the PR campaign was scheduled to go into high gear. Today he’s issuing dire warnings about al-Qaeda hegemony and nine-dollar gas if we leave, circulating bio pages that let his staff know whether they’re dealing with friend or foe among visiting congress members, and insisting repeatedly that violence is down in classified briefings where he doesn’t have to publicly defend his figures.
If these don’t sound like the actions of an honest broker to you, they don’t to me either. They sound like elements of a campaign with one overriding purpose: to convince politicians and opinion makers that we’re making progress in Iraq regardless of whether we are or not. We’re only seeing the results of Petraeus’s PR blitzkrieg now, but it’s obviously been in the works for months and it’s been a smashing success. The general has profoundly outplayed the amateurs on their home turf.
Bravo, general. Well played.
UPDATE: I didn’t know this when I wrote this post, but Andrea Mitchell partially retracted her comment about Gen. Petraeus a couple of days after she made it. Details here, along with a response from Petraeus’s public affairs officer.