The Academic General


I mean no disrespect, but Gen. David Petraeus is overrated. I don’t for a second question his intelligence, patriotism or courage. He just has had the misfortune of coming along at a time when the Pentagon hands out generals’ stars and decorations like Mardi Gras beads.

He has medals (commonly called a "fruit salad") from his collarbone almost to his bellybutton, yet he has seen very, very little combat. If you read his military rsum, he has been mostly a desk jockey. Again, the medals aren’t his fault. The politicians in Washington, those in and those out of uniform, have cheapened them all by too generously handing them out for too little in the way of accomplishments.

The only wounds Gen. Petraeus has suffered were being accidentally shot by one of his own men and breaking his pelvis in a noncombat parachute jump. He led the 101st Airborne Division from Kuwait to Mosul, Iraq, in 2003. That was a cakewalk. Saddam Hussein’s army was technologically obsolete, demoralized and falling apart. It lasted only weeks. And that’s it for his combat record. Even then, how close he got to the actual fighters, I don’t know.

There again, it’s not his fault. A soldier has to fight the enemy available. Petraeus can’t help it that there were no Germans, Japanese, Koreans or Vietnamese to give him a good test.

What a far cry from the battles fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. I’m too spoiled by having known real heroes to buy into the public-relations types these days. A man I admire more than most I’ve ever met, Lewis Walt, received his second lieutenant’s commission in 1939 in the Marine Corps. He fought his way across the Pacific, earning Silver Stars and Navy Crosses in bitter combat and suffering wounds on several occasions. Then he fought in the Korean War and again in Vietnam. After all that combat, he wasn’t given his fourth star until 1966.

And by the way, Gen. Walt was doing the counterinsurgency stuff Petraeus is given credit for back in Vietnam. Nor was Gen. Walt a suck-up shoe-licker. He blasted the press, he blasted Congress, he blasted parents for neglecting their children’s education. He was a truly fearless man. Go to Wikipedia and read the bios of these two men, and you’ll see what I mean.

When in Mosul, Gen. Petraeus, according to his critics, disregarded the advice of the Kurds and appointed the wrong people to various positions. After he left, they nearly all defected to the insurgents, taking their uniforms and guns with them. His next assignment was to train the Iraqi army. That, too, was a failure, and that was when so many rifles and body armor turned up missing.

Last week, he went before the sycophants in Congress, resplendent with four stars and all his medals, telling them that when the Iraqi army is trained and able to take over … Whoa! Stop the tape. How long have we been hearing this? No Army in the world has been trained longer than the Iraqi army. If the Iraqi soldiers don’t take the field pretty soon, they will all be too old.

The truth is that the Iraqis know how to fight. The problem is that they don’t always wish to fight the people we want them to fight. What the Bush administration is offering the American people (Petraeus is just a lackey of his commander in chief) as a policy is to make 140,000 American men and women hostages to Iraqi corruption and incompetence. In other words, the Bush policy is to leave it up to the Iraqis as to when we will leave.

There is a vile, vulgar expression common in my barracks long ago that aptly describes this policy. I can translate it as to heck with this stupid idea. That’s our Army, and we should decide when it will leave Iraq, without regard for what the Iraqis think. You don’t need to be a military genius to realize that it will be the worst of the Iraqis who want us to stay indefinitely.

It might be true that we broke the country, but we’ve already paid more than it’s worth. It’s time to remind the Iraqis that life isn’t fair and to bid them farewell. As for Gen. Petraeus, he should be assigned to teach at West Point. Most of his experience is academic.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.