In a new book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War, journalist and author Fred Kaplan tackles the career of David H. Petraeus and follows the four-star general from Bosnia to his commands in Iraq and Afghanistan. Central to the story are ideas of counterinsurgency. Kaplan says that while counterinsurgency is not a new kind of warfare, it’s a kind of war that Americans do not like to fight. “We tend to call it irregular warfare even though this kind of warfare is the most common,” Kaplan tells Fresh Air’s Dave Davies. Kaplan, who writes the War Stories column for Slate, explains that Petraeus and a number of his West Point peers were interested in the writings of counterinsurgency theorists who believed that “insurgencies grow out of something. They don’t grow out of a vacuum. … They respond to people’s needs in a country where the government is not satisfying those needs. And so, what you have to do is not merely capture and kill the insurgents, but change the social conditions. … It was a different kind of warfare that required not just fighting, but what we now call ‘nation building’ [and] that required cultural sensitivity to the people around them, required living among the people, protecting the population, earning their trust so that they, in turn, will tell us who the bad guys are.” Petraeus implemented these theories with some success in Iraq, but less so in Afghanistan, where he lacked the familiarity with the country he had had in Iraq. “The problem was, by his own admission, he knew nothing about Afghanistan,” says Kaplan. “He’d been in Iraq three times. He knew that place well. He comes in and what’s in his mind is Iraq. … I was told that in a meeting with President Karzai once, Karzai laid out a problem and [Petraeus] said, ‘Well, you know, in Baghdad we did it like this …’ to the president of Afghanistan. And the aide who was with Petraeus in the room — who had been both in Afghanistan and Iraq — when they were walking out he said, ‘You know, it might be an interesting intellectual experiment for you to not even think about Iraq,’ and Petraeus said, ‘I’m working on it.’ ” MORE
PREVIOUSLY: Not surprisingly, the media has been asking all the wrong questions about the unfolding Real Housewives Of the Pentagon sex scandal currently inflaming the loins of our cable-fueled collective schadenfreude. The story seems to change by the minute and it’s clear we’ve yet to hit bottom — so stay tuned. But I’m willing to bet Mitt Romney $10,000 that when this is all said and done we will be shocked — SHOCKED! I tells ya — to learn that powerful men have extramarital affairs, the FBI is now in the catfight referee business and children of all ages love a good Zippergate soap opera when it stars the high and mighty. And not much more.
I’m not holding my breath, but here’s hoping Congress will ask Petraeus the, um, hard questions that need answering when the general appears before the House Intelligence Committee tomorrow. Instead of asking who Petraeus has been fucking — that’s between him and his family — we should be asking who’s really getting fucked? I would argue the fucked list includes: The truth, the Sunnis, the 800 American soldiers that died in The Surge in Iraq, the thousand-plus American soldiers that have been KIA in The Surge in Afghanistan, along with the thousands of innocent civilians — read women and children — killed in both operations, and the American people who suffer through cop-cutting, firemen-firing, teacher-trashing austerity in a moribund economy while untold bajillions disappear down the worm hole of fear, lies and state-sponsored slaughter.
General Petraeus’ carefully cultivated celebrity is the end product of the media’s unholy deification of the avatars of the military-industrial complex. Petraeus was not just the architect and prime enforcer of both surges, he was also both their tireless cheerleader, employing the full force of his celebrity to disarm media skepticism and conscript public opinion to move the White House across what was once a bridge too far. Which is proof that the Pentagon now has the power to not just to prosecute wars, but also persuasively promote their escalation and endless perpetuation. That should scare the hell out of everyone that loves democracy and civilian rule of the military as dictated by Article II of the United States Constitution. MORE