Bernard Finel responds to my digression on Petraeus in yesterday’s post. He makes a fair point about the impropriety of Petraeus’ op-ed in 2004 on the strength of the Iraqi security forces, something that’s a footnote in the 2004 campaign but at the time bolstered an entirely dubious point the Bush campaign was making. And he says I’ve misunderstood him: his beef isn’t with any partisanship, it’s that "civilians ought to be the ones both shaping and articulating policy choices for the American people, not serving military officers."
But my point wasn’t about partisanship, either. It was to demonstrate that most examples of Petraeus involving himself in the public debate over Iraq or counterinsurgency came after elected officials attempted to use Petraeus for one-or-other purpose. He goes on to indict Petraeus tendentiously:
Petraeus had been actively mobilizing support for his policy preferences since 2003. When he returned from his first tour in Iraq, he was running around telling all and sundry about how brilliant he’d been in Mosul — cultivating press and Congressmen in the process — something he continued to do in 2005 when he spun the whole story into a Tal Afar vs. Fallujah narrative. And this was not a private, internal campaign. It was an active effort to build a coalition inside and outside the Administration in support of the kinds of changes he wanted. Again, this is inappropriate.
Oh my God! Petraeus did what every other flag officer does! He cultivates ties with reporters and politicians! He brags or inflates his record of success in interviews! He makes a case to his civilian bosses about the way things ought to be! Next he’ll be, I don’t know, telling committee chairmen how great the F-22 is; or speechifying about how massive maritime multilateralism is the future of seapower; or why the Crusader artillery system is wonderful; or why we need hundreds of thousands of troops to occupy Iraq if we’re gonna invade it in the first place! Nothing Finel cites here is out of the ordinary, so it doesn’t make sense to single Petraeus out. Gen. Jim Jones, now the national security adviser, was a hell of a schmoozer as well.
As long as I’m belaboring the point, I might add that Petraeus’ most energetic efforts at building a coalition did not occur "inside… the [Bush] Administration." They occurred inside the military. And that’s not unusual either. I don’t know what Finel thinks generals actually do when they get together or meet with politicians and reporters, but it’s not as monastic an existence as his post suggests.
The stuff about McChrystal is just hysterical. Nothing McChrystal said in London is a "MacArthur-like leap into the debate over Afghanistan." That simply isn’t supported by the transcript of McChrystal at the IISS. I’d urge Bernard to check the whole thing before writing stuff like:
[McChrystal] decided to poison the well and take a swipe at the Vice President’s position. That is simply UNACCEPTABLE. And it is shocking that a reporter and analyst of Ackerman’s standing does not understand that.
OH SHIT CAPITAL LETTERS. Finel should really read McChrystal’s remarks in full, since they’re full of comments like this: "I think any decision to go forward will not just be based on resources, it will be based on what are our goals. And I know people are re-looking what our goals and objectives are and redefining and clarifying those, and I think that’s helpful. Once they do that, I think the resources, of course, are linked to that, because obviously you have to have a ways and means match. So, I don’t think that if we align our goals and our resources, we will have a significant problem. Our problem would be as — if we didn’t." THE GHOST OF MACARTHUR REARS HIS HEAD ZOMG
Update: For a very good and decidedly-non-hysterical take on McChrystal and the broader civil-military debate, I can’t recommend this Michael Cohen post highly enough.
Update 2: Dude, stop digging. Obviously I listened/watched the Q&A in full; I’ve been posting quotes from it since yesterday afternoon, including… here. Your argument is just getting more tendentious. McChrystal did not in any meaningful sense constrain the debate with his London remarks, which is why you don’t actually produce any quotations from what he said.