General Petraeus’s October Surprise
Image Credit: US Army

General Petraeus’s October Surprise


Last month saw a surprising flood of good tidings from Afghanistan. We learned that the US-NATO offensive in Kandahar is succeeding; that drone strikes are breaking al-Qaeda’s back; that the Taliban and al-Qaeda are at daggers drawn; and that the Taliban is ready to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the Afghan war.

What a change since September, when the outlook was so gloomy! So what prompted these changes? Good policy? Military heroism? The Taliban realizing that it was beaten? Or was it something to do with tomorrow’s US mid-term congressional election?

My guess is that last one. After all, if you recall, the same Gen. David Petraeus who now commands in Afghanistan also delivered a similar package of remarkable and unexpected good news about Iraq when he was in charge there—just before the 2008 US presidential election. The ‘surge’ and the ‘Sunni Awakening’ had ‘succeeded,’ claims that were enough to broadly keep the Iraq war off the political agenda during the late stages of the campaign (much to the relief of both Barack Obama and John McCain). Today, it’s clear that much of the so-called success in Iraq is unravelling, with al-Qaeda returning to Baghdad and Anbar Province, and Iraqi society headed toward sectarian civil war.

This time around, Petraeus’s batch of happy news comes at a time when neither party wants to talk about how far the Afghan war is off the tracks. And, looking at the US media, the ploy has worked again.

The first three items of Petraeus’s supposed good-tidings package can be dealt with quickly. The Kandahar offensive is progressing because Petraeus and his predecessor gave the Taliban and other mujahedin eight months advance warning. As a result, insurgent leaders—never eager to stand and fight conventional forces—long ago moved most of their men and materiel to safer venues. Essentially the US-NATO campaign is succeeding because there’s so little opposition, save for the IEDs, mines and booby-traps with which the Taliban has laced the region.

Next, while drone strikes hurt al-Qaeda (no group welcomes casualties) they have no strategic impact on Osama bin Laden or his organization. Leaders are replaced and fighting goes on not only in South Asia, but also in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and North and West Africa, in each of which al-Qaeda is far more potent than it was on 9/11.

December 2, 2010 at 22:53

Nice analogy, TheZeitgeist. It might make an interesting novel– alternate chapters of Dominate-era Rome, and Bush-era America (Obama’s foreign policy still qualifies as Bush-esque).

November 6, 2010 at 04:27

The war in Afghanistan was ‘lost’ politically when Karzai threw the election and the USA let him get away with it. Once that was done, Karzai became another illegitimate kleptocrat backed by a foreign power, which was the same political arrangement the Soviets tried. Combined with America’s bass-ackwards politically correct moralizing-in-policy with Afghanistan (turn blind eye to oppressing women because we’re culturally sensitive to ‘Islam,’ but opium’s EVIL no matter the culture) guarantee the USA political failure no matter the tactical successes US-MIL will continue to inflict on the enemy everywhere they are engaged.

The USA in Afghanistan reminds me of beginning of the Dominate period in Roman Empire. While the citizenry at home becomes increasingly idle, depending on a whole sub-class of non-citizens at home and abroad to keep Americans in their lifestyle, the politicians placate the idle mobs with bread and circuses. The political engagement abroad is equally incompetent, more and more soft politicians lean more and more heavily on the last vestige of supreme competence: The military, boots on the ground, the Centurions in the trenches more than generals and senators in the palaces, to remain relevant even while they mortgage the future away. Quite sad, really.

November 3, 2010 at 06:23

let’s stop saying US is feeling the breath of failure whether in Irak or in Afghanistan . They have never aimed at winning militarily or success at nation building . All the MIC want is finding a pretext , a rationalization at expanding all ammunition and repleting it at all hell broke speed and charging the US taxpayer

Mike W
November 2, 2010 at 23:18

If the bloodbath that happened in 2005 – 2007 wasn’t civil war then what was it? You are several years behind in the news. The civil war happened and the Shiites won.

The Shiite victory in the civil war plus the USA bribing Sunni insurgents is what led to the temporary peace.

Iraq was a massive failure. That history has already been written.

Mike W
November 2, 2010 at 23:14

Maybe my memory is faulty because apparently I have forgotten what victory is. Victory is not attacking a country that didnt attack us, at the cost of a trillion dollars and thousands of lives to gain nothing.

Iraq was a loser the day we set foot in that hole. Any opinion to the contrary is delusional.

November 2, 2010 at 22:00

Well Dennis, I guess the lack of real news coverage in the US might be an excuse for you, but even here it is pretty well known that Petraeus’ “surge” had rather little to do with decreasing levels of violence in Iraq. In fact, the iraqi Civil War was largely over even before the “surge manoeuver” for public consumption of state propaganda (so we could leave without admitting defeat) even got started. In fact, Petraeus’ ONLY success in his three failed missions in Iraq was to offer big bribes to the Sunnis at a time when they were losing the the civil war.

Timmy Ramone
November 2, 2010 at 16:18

Maybe my memory is faulty, but wasn’t Iraq supposed to be a “cakewalk”? Weren’t U.S. forces supposed to be greeted with “flowers and candy”? Weren’t they also supposed to find huge stockpiles of WMDs, right next to Osama bin Laden’s Baghdad villa?

It turns out that experts like Mr. Scheuer have been consistently right about Iraq, while those who supported invading and occupying the country turned out to be consistently wrong. But that doesn’t seem to stop them from making idiotic statements like “didn’t we end up winning in Iraq”. If what has happened to that country since the U.S. invasion qualifies as “winning,” I hate to think of what will happen when the U.S. finally loses.

November 2, 2010 at 14:52

What do you refer to as a win? Do you mean that we took out one dictator we put in power and replaced whim with a another set of officials that we thought would do out bidding but actually do the bidding of the shiite theocracy next door? Do you mean win in the context that we are paying sunni sheikhs to not fight? I would define these as losses on both counts. Do you define a win as the fact that Saddam’s secular baathist regime along with Iran was the only stop or cork in the bottle on the conveyer belt that carried hardened sunni AQ members from southeast asia region/Afghanistan/Chechnya to the Levant (Lebanon, Saudi, Yemen) and we removed that road block with evident effects being seen all around with fighters going both ways? I see this is a loss since we now have dangerous and battle hardened fighters crossing into the Levant and threatening our interests including that albatross around our neck, Israel. Moreover, the civil war has been in progress with Shiite death squads that have cleared Baghdad of rival Sunni populations and virtually excluded Sunnis from the govt. The evidence shows that Nur Al Maliki never intended to tolerate a Sunni armed militia and has begun forced disarmament. Moreover, the wiki leaks papers appear to show the heavy handedness the predominantly shiite armed forces of Iraq has been showing to the Shiites. I would say that you are either propandizing or you have bought into the propaganda (a consistent trait of someone with an agenda).
I refer you to this source as to the beginnings of a turnaround and unraveling in Iraq:

Finally, do you think Saudi will tolerate a heavily armed Shiite arab neighbor in bloc with Iran? This is the prelude to a large cover civil war in the region that is going on and has been causing death and destruction.

November 2, 2010 at 13:20

> Maybe my memory is faulty, but didn’t we end up winning in Iraq, Mr. Schuer?

Indeed it is faulty.

> Seriously, hardly a week goes by without some Associated Press of NY Times dispatch breathlessly warning about “a return to sectarian violence” in Iraq.

You mean like the 58 Christians massacred in Iraq yesterday?

If that satisfies your definition of “victory”, then may I suggest you have some pretty low standards?

November 2, 2010 at 10:51

Say Dennis where have you been — the civil war in Iraq began in earnest in 2005 and the Shiites won, at least in Baghdad. And there is yet to be a settlement between the kurds and Arabs. Only the presence of US troops protect the Kurds, and once these are withdrawn we will just have see what happens then.

Massive civil war in Afghanistan is not necessarily in the cards. If all the players see it as a real possibility then perhaps they will negotiate a truce in advance. It would require the Taliban allowing the Northern minorities a degree of autonomy. I would think that after 30 years of war, all of the players might be getting little tired and sit down and talk it over. However, before that can happen the US must leave and let them work it out as best they can. The down side of American withdrawal will be the universal recognition that that the US lost and thus that the Taliban won. They might be difficult negotiation partners. Schuer’s pessimistic predictions may certainly come to pass.

November 2, 2010 at 09:43

Maybe my memory is faulty, but didn’t we end up winning in Iraq, Mr. Schuer? And yet didn’t we hear (and still continue to hear) dire warnings about impending disaster in Iraq from all the self-annointed “experts” in the media at every turn? Seriously, hardly a week goes by without some Associated Press of NY Times dispatch breathlessly warning about “a return to sectarian violence” in Iraq.

Well, all the “experts” have been proven wrong about Iraq up to now, and I strongly suspect that you and the rest of the “experts” will be similarly proven wrong about Afghanistan.

I’ll give you this though: You’re consistent.

Dennis Skayhan
November 2, 2010 at 05:55

Mr. Scheuer is part of a long line of commentators who have been predicting almost since the invasion in 2003 that Iraq is headed for civil war. Well maybe, but most indications are that if they didn’t plunge into civil war before when violence was much greater they aren’t going to now. But the main thrust of Mr. Scheuer’s article is that General Petreaus’ is hiding the truth for political reasons. This is a slightly more sophistcated recycling of the “General Betrayus” attack from 2007. Anyone who has heard the General talk knows that he is the first to admit how difficult and uncertain the way forward is. The General accepted a demotion to take on this difficult and probably thankless job, and he was under no obligation to do so. So why would he, especially if, as the author states the General knows the war is lost?

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