Questioning Petraeus

QUESTIONING PETRAEUS….Gen. David Petraeus’s September 2004 op-ed in the Washington Post is getting renewed attention these days, and for obvious reasons. Here’s an excerpt:

18 months after entering Iraq, I see tangible progress….there are reasons for optimism….Iraqi security forces are in the fight….Within the next 60 days, six more regular army and six additional Intervention Force battalions will become operational….40 of the 45 existing battalions….are conducting operations on a daily basis….1,100 graduated from the basic policing course and five specialty courses. By early spring, nine academies in Iraq and one in Jordan will be graduating a total of 5,000 police each month.

….Numbers alone cannot convey the full story….there is no shortage of qualified recruits volunteering to join Iraqi security forces….I meet with Iraqi security force leaders every day….I have seen their determination and their desire to assume the full burden of security tasks for Iraq….Momentum has gathered in recent months. With strong Iraqi leaders out front and with continued coalition — and now NATO — support, this trend will continue.

It’s perfectly fair to call Petraeus out on this. He was the guy in charge of training the Iraqi army and police back in 2004-05, and this op-ed was happy talk of a spectacular order. For all intents and purposes, none of the stuff he talked about ended up happening. Three years later, the Iraqi army is still barely functional and the Iraqi police forces, by all accounts, are so thoroughly corrupt and sectarian that we’d be better off if they didn’t even exist. Since Petraeus was the guy who set up much of their initial training, he deserves to be held to account for what happened.

I should add, though, that there’s no reason for this to turn into a feeding frenzy of Petraeus mudslinging. (How’s that for a mixed metaphor?) Anybody in charge of any project is going to tend toward over-optimism — I’ve played that role myself in previous lives — and the fact that Petraeus talked up troop training the past and is obviously trying pretty hard to talk up the surge today doesn’t make him a fraud. It just makes him human.

An extremely talented and hard-charging human, by all accounts, but still human — and one who won’t melt under the glare of the klieg lights. If we want to get to the truth, Congress should pull no punches when he testifies next week.