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The Man, The Myth, The Legend

One of the interesting things about the Petraeus scandal is that it has brought about a re-evaluation of the man the press called “King David”. No one came out of the Iraq fiasco with as strong a reputation. Almost everyone was tarnished by it … except Petraeus. But now some in the media, eager to tear down the latest idol, are turning on him. Probably one of the most revealing articles came from Spencer Ackerman:

Like many in the press, nearly every national politician, and lots of members of Petraeus’ brain trust over the years, I played a role in the creation of the legend around David Petraeus. Yes, Paula Broadwell wrote the ultimate Petraeus hagiography, the now-unfortunately titled All In. But she was hardly alone (except maybe for the sleeping-with-Petraeus part). The biggest irony surrounding Petraeus’ unexpected downfall is that he became a casualty of the very publicity machine he cultivated to portray him as superhuman. I have some insight into how that machine worked.

It’s worth a read. Petraeus is not the first general to work hard on maintaining his public image. Grant, Eisenhower, Pershing — all of them were well aware of the public’s fascination with our generals. Indeed, once a general becomes famous, maintaining a solid public image becomes critical. The media are all too eager to tear down a military icon when it suits them. George Patton was one of our best generals but was constantly in trouble and losing commands because his public image, during the war at least, was awful.

But were the plaudits completely undeserved?

It won’t take you long to find harsh assessments, especially when it comes to Afghanistan. But I keep circling back to the early days of Iraq, when Petraeus seemed to be the only one who understood how to work with the Iraqis. I keep going back to the Iraq surge. His critics are saying the violence was ending anyway because the Iraqis were growing tired of it. I find that dubious in the extreme. People never really tire of violence. Petraeus laid out a strategy for reducing the violence, executed it and saw the violence reduce. It would be an amazing coincidence if he had nothing to do with the improvement in conditions on the ground.

That this strategy failed in Afghanistan is not surprising because Afghanistan was a different problem. In Iraq, we were dealing with sectarian violence and could intervene productively. In Afghanistan, we’re dealing with an active resistance to our very presence.

I do think Ackerman makes one very good point:

The uncomfortable truth is that a lot of us who’ve covered Petraeus over the years could have written that. It’s embarrassingly close to my piece on Petraeus’ legacy that @bitteranagram tweeted. And that’s not something you should fault Petraeus for. It’s something you should fault reporters like me for. Another irony that Petraeus’ downfall reveals is that some of us who egotistically thought our coverage of Petraeus and counterinsurgency was so sophisticated were perpetuating myths without fully realizing it.

None of this is to say that Petraeus was actually a crappy officer whom the press turned into a genius. That would be just as dumb and ultimately unfair as lionizing Petraeus, whose affair had nothing to do with his military leadership or achievements. ”David Petraeus will be remembered as the finest officer of his generation, and as the commander who turned the Iraq War around,” e-mails military scholar Mark Moyar. But it is to say that a lot of the journalism around Petraeus gave him a pass, and I wrote too much of it. Writing critically about a public figure you come to admire is a journalistic challenge.

I don’t think it’s just the media; all of us wanted him to be more than just a good general and an admirable man, which he still is. We wanted him to be something almost God-like; the man who could rescue Iraq, turn Afghanistan around, remake the CIA and (most likely) become a great President one day. It was an offshoot of the military being the most respected and beloved institution in the nation, with approval ratings that are usually several times that of politicians.

Petraeus’ downfall reminds us that he is human and has both professional and personal failings. But let’s not let it wipe away the good marks on his record, which are many.

19 comments

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  1. Thrill says:

    He can redeem himself by speaking the truth about Benghazi.

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  2. TxAg94 says:

    Kind of related, this is the funniest damn thing I’ve seen in a while:

    ABC Affiliate Shows Fake Patraeus Book Cover: “ALL up IN my snatch”

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  3. Thrill says:

    Oh, yeah, I saw that! “All up IN my snatch” has got to be a brand new meme. It’s too good. Please tell me somebody is doing this.

    Where’s ryansparx? He’s always been my go-to guy for this.

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  4. Poosh says:

    Have they made a porn movie of this yet? < Serious question. It doesn't take long for them to get one of these parodies made usually. It's gonna happen. I wonder who will play Paula Broadwell? THESE are the important questions of our times.

    Question: is it normal for Generals to take up the position of head of CIA? It seems to me, off the top of my head, that the answer would have been no.

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  5. tomchamberlain says:

    I can’t speak to the motivations of the press (or anyone else for that matter) but I’m glad Petraeus is being torn down. He deserves it (and far worse). People forget adultery is a crime in the Military and there’s a good reason for that. From blackmail to sharing classified info there are a thousand reasons why a general having a mistress puts the troops under him in danger.

    It’s even possible he shared confidential information with Broadwell which she then passed on to the public (see the whole Benghazie/Prisoner thing).

    As for his accomplishments I’m not sure what to say about that. The problem with doing something like this is you put all your accomplishments in question since there’s no way to know how compromised he was or what actions he took because he was compromised. No one expects Petraeus to be a God but having the power to take life on your order means you have to hold yourself to a higher standard than your average cheating spouse working in an office building.

    So whatever the media’s motivations are I applaud them for tearing Petraeus down. He’s a man who deserves a jail cell yet I can almost guarantee he’ll end up with a speaking tour and a life of cocktail parties. My only hope is they’ll at least revoke is retirement benefits. It won’t matter (I suspect he’s set for life financially) but at least I won’t have to pay for him in his old age.

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  6. Poosh says:

    h Broadwell which she then passed on to the public (see the whole Benghazie/Prisoner thing).

    Not disagreeing. But my brain is telling me that the Prisoner remark was well after the affair ended, and there’s no reason to believe Paula Broadlyfilled did not get that from her host of sources which she no doubt has, being a journalist with military credentials.

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  7. Poosh says:

    He’s a man who deserves a jail cell yet I can almost guarantee he’ll end up with a speaking tour and a life of cocktail parties.

    I wouldn’t be too sure about him not going to jail… He wasn’t a pro-Democrat man, remember.

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  8. Hal_10000 says:

    Tom, I don’t entirely disagree. We’ll have to see what the investigation turns up. but if he was giving classified information out, there’s no excuse for it.

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  9. Mississippi Yankee says:

    He’s a man who deserves a jail cell yet I can almost guarantee he’ll end up with a speaking tour and a life of cocktail parties.

    Just off the top on my head but his testimony on Benghazi will determine whether the remainder of his existence will mirror Jack Ryan or Vince Foster.
    There are people involved here who play for keeps.

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  10. CM says:

    I’m picking Kimberly Kane will play Broadwell.
    http://followgram.me/drivenbyboredom/163355630502383452_15657530

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  11. Thrill says:

    Awesome article by Ralph Peters from last night. He agrees with most of the sentiments here (except the porn stuff):

    The general held himself up as a paragon of self-discipline and model family man. In Iraq and then Afghanistan, he rigorously enforced “General Order No. 1,” which prohibits our troops from fraternization, all sex, alcohol consumption, the possession of pornography and, generally, from any activity that might make the boredom and terror of this kind of war more bearable. When our troops screwed up, they got hammered.

    Generals can take a weekend in Paris and get drunk (as Gen. Stanley McChrystal did), but the grunt who goofs in a firefight faces a court-martial.

    Now those who’ve tied their military or literary careers to Petraeus and his inept counterinsurgency doctrine are rushing to make excuses for the general: He’s too important to be sacrificed like this, the president shouldn’t have accepted his resignation (resignation my butt — the guy was fired), and the affair only started after he left the military . . .

    No man’s too important to be sacrificed. Petraeus had to go. CIA employees must conform to behavior standards even stricter than those of our military — careers end over extramarital affairs or just the wrong flirtations. And as Petraeus himself loved to point out, leaders set the example. As for the timing of his affair, hey, the post of CIA director’s more sensitive than that of any general.

    Petraeus has one shot at redemption, though. He’s scheduled to testify on the Hill this Friday. (Put him under oath!) He can do his country a last great service by telling the truth about the Benghazi debacle: What did the president know and when did he know it?

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  12. Hal_10000 says:

    Eli lake is indicating the testimony may implicate the CIA more than the President. If it’s true that the CIA did not request military help, this will go badly for Petraeus.

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  13. Mississippi Yankee says:

    Petraeus has one shot at redemption, though. He’s scheduled to testify on the Hill this Friday. (Put him under oath!) He can do his country a last great service by telling the truth about the Benghazi debacle: What did the president know and when did he know it?

    If I remember correctly, and I do, there are parts of the friggin’ Warren Commission that were sealed for 50 years. How much of this “behind closed doors” testimony will you and I never hear.

    Hell, I don’t even have to go back as far as the Kennedy years, there are parts of the 911 investigation that we’ll never hear.

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  14. Hal_10000 says:

    Petraeus has one shot at redemption, though. He’s scheduled to testify on the Hill this Friday. (Put him under oath!) He can do his country a last great service by telling the truth about the Benghazi debacle: What did the president know and when did he know it?

    And if he doesn’t tell Republicans what they want to hear?

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  15. Mississippi Yankee says:

    Thrill said:

    (

    Put him under oath!) He can do his country a last great service by telling the truth about the Benghazi debacle: What did the president know and when did he know it?

    Then Hal wrote:

    And if he doesn’t tell Republicans what they want to hear?

    Why, is there a truth you and your GOP bashing side would like to hear?
    Are you and your ‘Blame America First’ patriot buddies going to suggest we somehow had in coming in Benghazi?
    Wait, didn’t you think the Arab Spring was a good idea? Along with an unsanctioned intervention by your presidential second/first choice?

    Now I can think of several lies they may not want to hear. Lies that they’ve been force-fed for the past 60+ days. Are those the truths of which you speak?

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  16. Hal_10000 says:

    Are you and your ‘Blame America First’ patriot buddies going to suggest we somehow had in coming in Benghazi?

    Wait, didn’t you think the Arab Spring was a good idea? Along with an unsanctioned intervention by your
    presidential second/first choice?

    MY, are you under the impression you’re posting on Daily Kos? I never “blame America first” and I specifically bashed Obama for attacking without Congressional authorization.

    What I am saying is that the GOP seems to think that Petraeus will give them what they want: some real scandal on Benghazi they can pin on Obama. I am dubious that this will happen. It’s becoming increasingly clear that this was a CIA op and a CIA fuckup. Read the above reporting from Eli Lake about how the CIA said they did not need military assistance. Read CBS’s reporting last night about how Susan Rice as given talking points from the CIA claiming this was protest that spun out of control.

    If Petraeus testifies to this, do you think the GOP is just going to say, “Oh, OK then.” Nope. Out will come the conspiracy theories about how he’s being forced to do Obama’s will.

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  17. Mississippi Yankee says:

    If Petraeus testifies to this, do you think the GOP is just going to say, “Oh, OK then.” Nope. Out will come the conspiracy theories about how he’s being forced to do Obama’s will.

    Or people like you will swallow anything this administration feeds them. Things like CBS’s claim that Susan Rice gets her marching orders from the CIA.

    Whether it’s ineptitude or conspiracy what I WANT to know (and probably never will) is What did the Clownmandeer-in-Chief know and When did he know it? And is you expect to get those answers from the Human Centipede of MSM you’re a bigger fool than nature may allow.

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  18. Poosh says:

    It’s becoming increasingly clear that this was a CIA op and a CIA fuckup.

    Why should we give a f*ck about that eh? The intelligence was wrong about Iraq’s WMD (to a point) but that didn’t stop the scum from pinning it on Bush.

    Shove it down the leftists throats. And make them choke on it.

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  19. balthazar says:

    Read CBS’s reporting last night about how Susan Rice as given talking points from the CIA claiming this was protest that spun out of control.

    sorry Hal, that did not come from the CIA, Patsie said that the CIA’s initial talking points memo to the White house said under no uncertain terms that this was Alqida.

    Try again to put it all on the CIA. Cuz that dog isnt hunting no more.

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