Was David Petraeus as great a general as the write-ups of his downfall routinely claim? This is a provocative question that I will begin to answer with another question: Did America prevail in the Iraq War? I suspect few would say "yes" and believe it, which is no reflection on the valor and sacrifice of the American and allied troops who fought there. On the contrary, it was the vaunted strategy of the two-step Petraeus "surge" that was the blueprint of failure.
While U.S. troops carried out Part One successfully by fighting to establish basic security, the "trust" and "political reconciliation" that such security was supposed to trigger within Iraqi society never materialized in Part Two. Meanwhile, the "Sunni awakening" lasted only as long as the U.S. payroll for Sunni fighters did.
Today, Iraq is more an ally of Iran than the United States (while dollars keep flowing to Baghdad). This failure is one of imagination as much as strategy. But having blocked rational analysis of Islam from entering into military plans for the Islamic world, the Bush administration effectively blinded itself and undermined its own war-making capacity. In this knowledge vacuum, David Petraeus' see-no-Islam counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine would fill but not satisfy the void.
The basis of COIN is "population protection" -- Iraqi populations, Afghan populations -- over "force protection." Or, as lead author David Petraeus wrote in the 2007 Counterinsurgency Field Manual: "Ultimate success in COIN is gained by protecting the populace, not the COIN force." ("COIN force" families must have loved that.) Further, the Petraeus COIN manual tells us: "The more successful the counterinsurgency is, the less force can be used and the more risk can be accepted." "Less force" and "more risk" translate into highly restrictive rules of engagement.
More risk accepted by whom? By U.S. forces. Thus we see how, at least in the eyes of senior commanders, we get the few, the proud, the sacrificial lambs. And sacrificed to what? A theory.
The Petraeus COIN manual continues: "Soldiers and Marines may also have to accept more risk to maintain involvement with the people." As Petraeus wrote in a COIN "guidance" to troops in 2010 upon assuming command in Afghanistan: "The people are the center of gravity. Only by providing them security and earning their trust and confidence can the Afghan government and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) prevail." That was a theory, too. Now, after two long COIN wars, we know it was wrong.
COIN doctrine approaches war from an ivory tower, a place where such theories thrive untested and without hurting anyone. On the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, however, the results have been catastrophic. Tens of thousands of young Americans answered their country's call and were told to accept more "risk" and less "protection." Many lost lives, limbs and pieces of their brains as a result of serving under a military command structure and government in thrall to a leftist ideology that argues, in defiance of human history, that cultures, beliefs and peoples are all the same, or want to be.
Attributing such losses to Petraeus' see-no-Islam COIN is no exaggeration. In his 2010 COIN guidance, Petraeus told troops: "Walk. Stop by, don't drive by. Patrol on foot whenever possible and engage the population." As the Los Angeles Times reported last year, "The counterinsurgency tactic that is sending U.S. soldiers out on foot patrols among the Afghan people, rather than riding in armored vehicles, has contributed to a dramatic increase in arm and leg amputations, genital injuries and the loss of multiple limbs following blast injuries."
Indeed, the military has had to devise a new category of injury -- "dismounted complex blast injury" -- while military medicine has had to pioneer, for example, new modes of "aggressive pain management at the POI (point of injury)" and "phallic reconstruction surgery."
But not even such COIN sacrifices have won the "trust" of the Islamic world. On the contrary, we have seen spiraling rates of murder by our Muslim "partners" -- camouflaged by the phrase "green on blue" killings. COIN commanders, ever mindful of winning (appeasing) "hearts and minds," blame not the Islamic imperatives of jihad but rather summer heat, Ramadan fasting and the "cultural insensitivity" of the murder victims themselves. Such is the shameful paralysis induced by COIN, whose manual teaches: "Arguably, the decisive battle is for the people's minds. ... While security is essential to setting the stage for overall progress, lasting victory comes from a vibrant economy, political participation and restored hope."
Notice the assumption that something called "overall progress" will just naturally follow "security." Another theory. It didn't happen in Iraq. It hasn't happened in Afghanistan. Since nothing succeeds like failure, the doctrine's leading general was rewarded with the directorship of the CIA.
There is more at work here than a foundationally flawed strategy. In its drive to win Islamic hearts and minds, COIN doctrine has become an engine of Islamization inside the U.S. military. To win a Muslim population's "trust," U.S. troops are taught deference to Islam -- to revere the Quran; not to spit toward Mecca (thousands of miles away); and to condone such un- or anti-Western practices as religious supremacism, misogyny, polygamy, pederasty and cruelty to dogs. Our military has even permitted Islamic law to trump the First Amendment to further COIN goals, as when ISAF commander Petraeus publicly condemned an American citizen for exercising his lawful right to freedom of speech to burn a Quran.
This explains why the reports that CIA director David Petraeus went before the House Intelligence Committee in September and blamed a YouTube Muhammad video for the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, sounded so familiar. Whatever his motivation, it was all too easy for Petraeus to make free speech the scapegoat for Islamic violence. But so it goes in COIN-world, where jihad and Shariah (Islamic law) are off the table and the First Amendment is always to blame.
If there is a lesson here, it is simple: A leader who will betray the First Amendment will betray anything.