Why is Petraeus an Expert on Mosul?

Petraeus with Broadwell
He’s back: General Petraeus in happier days

General (retired) David Petraeus was on PBS the other day to explain the current Iraqi offensive on Mosul.  Sure, his military “surges” in Iraq and Afghanistan had no staying power, and he disgraced himself by sharing classified information with his mistress during an extramarital affair, but nevertheless let’s call on him as an unbiased “expert” on all things military.  Right?

Anyway, I thought the following words of Petraeus were revealing:

But that’s the extent of what we [the U.S.] can do [in Iraq today]. We can encourage, we can nudge, we can cajole [the Iraqi military and Kurdish forces]. We can’t force. And it is going to have to be Iraqis at the end of the day that come together, recognizing that, if they cannot, fertile fields will be planted for the planting of the seeds of ISIS 3.0, of further extremism in Iraq.

Wow.  There’s no sense here that the U.S. is to blame for planting the seeds of Iraqi extremism (or, at the very least, fertilizing them) in those “fertile fields.”  Overthrowing Saddam Hussein in 2003 and demobilizing Iraqi military forces predictably left a power vacuum that facilitated factionalism and extremism in Iraq, which was only exacerbated by an extended and mismanaged U.S. occupation.  Petraeus’s “Surge” in 2007 papered over some of the worst cracks, but only temporarily, a fact that Petraeus himself knew (consider all his caveats about “gains” being “fragile” and “reversible”).

But no matter.  Petraeus is now saying it’s up to the Iraqis to get their act together, with some “nudging” and “cajoling” by the U.S.  I’m sure Iraqi leaders are happy to learn that U.S. experts like Petraeus are behind them, ready to encourage and nudge and cajole.  They’re likely happiest with U.S. Apache helicopters and direct tactical assistance via Special Ops teams (yes, there are U.S. boots on the ground, and they’re in harm’s way).

And Petraeus’s reference to ISIS 3.0: Isn’t it strange to compare a terrorist organization’s evolution to a new software product roll-out?  Petraeus might have added that ISIS 1.0 came as a result of the extended U.S. occupation of Iraq, and that ISIS 2.0 came as U.S. forces pulled out, leaving behind Iraqi security forces that the U.S. claimed were ready to defend Iraq, but which fled in 2014, abandoning their weapons and equipment to ISIS forces.  Put plainly, U.S. bungling helped to launch ISIS 1.0 and to equip ISIS 2.0.  And yet Petraeus suggests if there’s an ISIS 3.0, that version will be entirely the fault of the Iraqis.

Throughout the Petraeus interview, there’s a callous calculus in place.  For example, earlier in the interview, Petraeus casually notes the population of Mosul, originally 2 million people, is down to 1.2 million and dropping.  Nothing is said about the missing 800,000 Iraqis.  Most are refugees, but many are dead.  Doesn’t their fate suggest a colossal failure of the war and occupation you ran, General Petraeus?  But questions such as this are never asked in the mainstream media.

In its long wars in the Greater Middle East, the U.S. has an incredibly short and corrupted memory.  Indeed, to stay with Petraeus and his software analogies, the American memory is a circular file that is constantly overwritten with flawed data.  That’s a recipe not for smooth running but for catastrophic crashes.  And so it has proved.

12 thoughts on “Why is Petraeus an Expert on Mosul?

  1. From Fire in the Lake: the Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam, by Frances FitzGerald (1972):

    Chapter 12 – The Downward Spiral

    “There was a timeless quality to the American effort — which is not to say that it was static but that it was constantly moving over the same ground. Each year the new young men, so full of vague notions of “development,” so certain of their own capacity to “solve problems,” so anxious to “communicate” with the Vietnamese, eagerly took their places in this old, old war. … Only the faces of the young men and the numbers of the hamlets changed year after year. For those who stayed in Vietnam long enough, it was like standing on the ground and watching a carousel revolve.”

    In software terms, a fatal virus of the simplest sort:



    1. Mike: A term Petraeus used in this interview is “complex human terrain.” As in Mosul having the “most complex” human terrain for the U.S. to navigate or negotiate.

      On the one hand, this is standard military jargon. But it’s revealing of a paucity of thought. The peoples of Mosul are not “human terrain” that the U.S. can navigate through if only we could develop a better map or a smarter GPS device.

      When I hear generals, active or retired, talking like this, my first thought is: We are well and truly screwed.


      1. I read somewhere that on the mad dash into Baghdad — or the Little Big Horn Valley, as I saw it — General Dave turned to an embedded (or “in bed with”) reporter and said: “Tell me how this ends.” I couldn’t believe it when the reporter didn’t immediately respond with an incredulous: “You mean to tell me you don’t know?”

        General Dave didn’t know then. He doesn’t know now, thirteen years later. So why should anyone give a shit what this walking Christmas-tree decoration says about anything? When you speak of U.S. generals spewing “standard military jargon,” I think of Alexander Haig using the noun “caveat” as a verb, as in: “Let me caveat you this, Senator.” Where do we get these pompous, pseudo-educated pretenders? Certainly not from the deep end of the nation’s intellectual gene pool, so to speak. More like a mud puddle swarming with tadpoles and mosquito larvae.


      2. I knew a battalion commander, Army LTC, who worked for Petraeus. He was impressed by the general’s work ethic and command of details. And there’s the problem, I think: lots of make-work, lots of data and metrics, but not much probity, not much insight. There’s mastery, but it’s a mastery of minutiae. It’s not a mastery of what matters.

        And even as some mastery is gained (at very high cost, especially to others), there’s a new rotation of U.S. personnel, as your comment from “Fire in the Lake” indicates. Start/Go to Start is a damned good model of the infinite loop we seem to be in. Too bad we can’t edit that to Start/End.


      3. Master of Minutae, indeed. Like You-Know-Her, a Factoid Accumulation Algorithm, General Dave can give you the x- and y- coordinates of every dot on a scatter diagram but cannot perform a least-squares analysis that would reveal the “best fit” trend-line clearly pointing downward and to the right, indicating only more failure from doing the same things over and over and over and … Apparently, both You-Know-Her and General Dave missed that part of the first-year economics curriculum that dealt with The Law of Diminishing Returns as well as the introductory lecture on logic debunking Gambler’s Fallacy and other discredited dialectical dodges that U.S. “leaders” often substitute for real thinking.

        A very busy — or “busy looking busy” — bird brain, but not much else. As Barbara Tuchman writes somewhere in The March of Folly: “People tend to accept a successfully dramatised self-estimation,” and — in the case of wooden-headed sovereigns like Phillip II of Spain — “No experience of the failure of his policy could shake his belief in its essential excellence.” Yes. You-Know-Her and General Dave in a nutshell.

        Somebody looks like he desperately wants a job.
        Somebody else looks like she just might hire him.



  2. “If the Americans come, they will just draw an arbitrary line through a temporary problem and make it permanent.” — the late Dr. Ananda W. P. Guruge, former Sri Lankan Ambassador to the United States and France

    For General Dave and his biographer bimbo, a little something from a decade ago. Nudge and cajole and encourage this:

    Boobie Counter Insurgency
    (from Fernando Po, U.S.A., America’s post-literate retreat to Plato’s Cave)

    If offered help you’d best refuse
    For if you should relent
    They’ll draw an arbitrary line
    Through problems transient
    And complicate them all so as
    To make them permanent

    They’d like to spend a “night,” they say
    To get inside the door
    But after years you’ll find them fast
    Asleep upon your floor
    In no apparent haste to end
    Their stay that you abhor

    Like suitors of Penelope
    They make themselves at home
    In yours – till you will marry them
    Or read to them a tome
    That ends when brave Ulysses comes
    From back across the foam

    They start with talking of a “race”
    But just as a pretense
    Once underway, the “journey” talk
    Begins to change the sense:
    “Accomplished” missions leading to
    No perfect in their tense

    A hanging concentrates the mind;
    No hangings, the reverse
    When no one hangs for screwing up
    Results become perverse
    Rewards buy more incompetence
    And gild the golden purse

    Incompetents attract their ilk
    They know no other kind
    And so they concentrate like sludge
    A residue refined
    To gum up all the moving parts
    And leave them in a bind

    The Law of Parkinson explains
    Bureaucracy’s demands
    Just make more room to make more work
    For still more willing hands
    There’s room enough for everyone
    When all the yeast expands

    The Peter Principle sets in
    And all float to the top
    The good get out; the bad stay on:
    Promotion will not stop
    It doesn’t matter what they do,
    Or how they fail and flop

    “You fuck up then you move up” goes
    The slogan of the day
    Republican philosophy
    For how to make some hay
    Insurgencies have payrolls that
    Would tempt a Kenneth Lay

    To “counter” the insurgency
    You first put on your crown
    And then “elect” your puppets till
    You start to spiral down
    To end up with the worst of all:
    George Bush and Michael Brown

    Great nations, so the saying goes,
    Cannot fight little wars
    It just makes them look little
    Like the whores that staff the bars:
    Those widowed native women folk
    Whose men died for our cars

    We had to have the oil, it seems,
    To make our gas and fuel
    No matter that the price has soared
    While Halliburton gruel
    Fed to the troops to keep them fit
    Has made them mean and cruel

    But when a bloated, idle firm
    Has little real to do
    It either lays employees off
    Or makes a pooch to screw
    Then buys up some screwdriver stock
    With options for a few

    And then consultants come to call
    To market mantras cool:
    Some jaundiced, jaded, jargon jive
    To mesmerize the fool
    Which Dick and Don have taught to George
    To make of him a tool

    The trophy chief executive
    Requires the use of sound
    A propaganda catapult,
    Some noise he needs to pound
    He doesn’t have to know “above”
    From “under” or “around”

    Deciding to decide he picks
    Decision as his guide
    He chooses choices chosen for
    The options that they hide
    He puts them “on the table” then
    Onto the floor they slide

    He turns both tides and corners and
    He chews gum as he walks
    Then chokes and stumbles, yanked by strings,
    As his bad puppet balks
    Refusing to “eliminate”
    The “enemy” he stalks

    Technology will save the day
    Or so we have been told
    Our vastly overpriced machine
    Will keep away the cold
    Although “insurgents” wreck it with
    “Improvisation” bold

    The war to have more war again
    Has made war without end:
    Careers for all the supple ones
    Whose rubber ethics bend
    Until their “honor” turns to rust:
    A blood-stain’s reddish blend

    But why not send some campaign staff?
    Those smarmy puerile jerks
    Who masturbate to thoughts of “war”
    With all its rank and perks
    Who find “good bidness” where it “is”
    And who cares if it works?

    They’ll camp inside the castle walls
    Some hamburgers to munch
    And never go outside the wire
    To brave the deadly crunch
    While talking tough about Tehran
    Where they’d be someone’s lunch

    The days and weeks and months go by
    With more excuses still
    For why the costs keep rising while
    The “enemy” we kill
    But, What the hell? It’s free-lunch war!
    The kids will pay the bill

    Republicrats can talk a fight
    Until the buildings fall
    They then attack the innocent
    And squawk a shrieking squall
    Producing only years of talk
    To cover for it all

    So “Hell is on the way,” alright,
    Dick Cheney’s vow fulfilled
    They fell asleep on watch and got
    Three thousand of us killed
    Then ran off half a world away
    To have some oil wells drilled

    In only six more months of this
    The numbers will accrue
    To show we’ve lost three thousand more
    With no apparent clue
    Explaining why we’ve spent more time
    Than fighting World War Two

    We used to have great enemies
    But now we’ve only small
    We shot a cannon at a wasp
    Collapsing hive and hall
    And now upon our bee-stung ass
    The insects swarm and crawl

    We’ve bought another cannon, though,
    Because it makes more bang
    And generates huge profits for
    The ones who hire the gang
    Who, when the sand gets in the gears,
    Ignore the clunk and clang

    The blowback, though, comes round in time;
    No one has yet escaped.
    Vietnamized; Iraqified;
    Corrupted by the raped,
    The “victors” thus are vanquished by
    The monkeys that they aped.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2006


  3. Although not nearly as eloquent or as referenced-packed as the above comments: Our biggest problem isn’t the horny general; the young, inexperienced Soldiers from history; nor the sectarian split in Iraq. It is, rather, the American Foreign Policy that is tied to a four-year election cycle. Our biggest failure in Iraq (besides the obvious of going in) was prematurely leaving. Now we’ll have to go back again until some other politician, catering to sentiments of uneducated voters, promises to get us out forever (and then deflect when cyclical history bites his decision in the ass).

    I neither agree nor disagree with your assessment of Petraeus, but casting stones, Monday-morning QBing, and hindsight have also never helped our foreign policy.


    1. You’re right: the four-year election cycle doesn’t help. But where you see discontinuity, I see more continuity across administrations, beginning with the Carter Doctrine from 1980 that defined the Persian Gulf as a vital U.S. national interest. (And of course the U.S. has been meddling for far longer than that; consider CIA actions in Iran in 1953, for example.)

      So, for example, the U.S. never left Iraq. Yes, we pulled out most of our military forces by the end of 2011. But we’ve continued to maintain a large presence at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, protected by privatized militaries or mercenaries. Meanwhile, U.S. trainers and advisers have continued to work with Iraqi security forces, as they are now at a heightened level.

      And we’ll continue to meddle in Iraq and other areas of the Greater Middle East, well after 2016, because we never seem to learn from our failures. And because there’s also a lot of money to be made from failure. (Just look at all the weaponry we’ve provided to the Iraqis, for example, lots of which is now in the hands of ISIS and similar organizations.)

      When you consider U.S. policy in the Middle East over the long term, what’s remarkable is the consistency of actions across administrations since 1980. For example, over the last eight years, Obama has, in essence, continued the policies of Bush/Cheney. (It was Bush/Cheney who originally agreed to the pullout of most U.S. military forces.) Obama has simply used more Special Ops and more drones, rather than heavier “boots on the ground,” but his policy isn’t much different. And the benefactors of U.S. largesse (Israel and Saudi Arabia being the two biggest) remain the same.

      Time for a major reboot — a new course of action — or inaction.


    2. First of all, Americans never vote on the basis of foreign policy, about which they know little and could care less. They vote pocketbook economic issues or culture-war concerns that have no political solution but only serve to inflame passions and visceral emotions deliberately designed to foreclose the possibility of rational thought and — even worse from the Ruling Corporate Oligarchy’s point of view — informed electoral decisions based upon reality.

      Second, As regards the preposterous idea that the Sunni Shiite schism has nothing to do with the presently destabilized middle east, I can only quote from John J. Robinson, Dungeon, Fire and Sword: the Knights Templar in the Crusades (Great Britain: Brockhampton Press, 1999):

      “The First Crusade at the end of the eleventh century succeeded largely because of conflicts between Muslim factions that called themselves Sunni and Shiite. The new Templar order had to learn the make-up of the Muslim world as it took up residence in the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount.”

      “It was that incessant animosity between the Shiites, who controlled Egypt, and the Sunnis, who controlled Syria, that made the First Crusade possible, especially in that the Sunni Syrians also had to contend with Shiite enemies to the other side of them in Persia. At the time of that Crusade, the Sunni Caliph was based in Baghdad, while the Shiite cliph was resident in Cairo. It became the focal point of Christian diplomacy to play off one side against the other untile the time came that all of the Middle East was united under one dynamic leader who was given the honorary title of Salah-ed-Din, or Saladin.”

      Fast forward to the beginning of the Tenth Crusade in Palestine, which began in 1948 with the attempt — still ongoing — to establish another petty kingdom of land-grabbing European religious zealots, this time Jews instead of Christians. It will take some time, but it will come to the same end as the previous nine crusades in Palestine — unceremonious expulsion. For the precarious present, both Apartheid Zionist and (therefore) U.S. policy in the middle east seeks to exacerbate this historic schism within Islam — “let them kill each other off,” as Henry Kissinger put it — in the hopes of forestalling the time when Muslims will put aside their intramural squabbling and unite to — again — drive the latest Crusaders out of the middle east and back to Europe and Russia from whence they came.

      And please, can we have no more of the Orwellian euphemisms “go in” and “take out” instead of the more accurate and useful terms “invade” and “kill”? Otherwise we will just wind up sounding like customers looking over a menu at a Chinese restaurant

      Next, I propose that we reserve the term “premature” for the key phrase “premature ejaculation,” on occasions such as when American President George H. W. Bush exultantly proclaimed, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all,” or when his boy Dubya, also a U.S. president, ostentatiously announced from the deck of an aircraft carrier: “Mission Accomplished. In the battle of Iraq, America and its allies have prevailed.” Shooting one’s wad a bit too early — like decades too early — must run in the Bush family genes, if not America’s. So let us not speak foolishly of “premature” withdrawals — i.e., ignominious retreats — after decades of failed U. S. military adventurism. And when our vaunted “big thinking leaders” like General Dave admonish us: “You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs” (suggesting more decades of patience with their bungling belligerence), I suggest answering them with a rousing rendition of:

      Another Catastrophic Success

      With their tails tucked proudly ‘tween their legs
      Advancing towards the exits march the dregs
      Of empire, whose retreat this question begs:
      “No promised omelet, just the broken eggs?”

      Michael Murry, The Misfortune Teller, Copyright 2011

      Finally, as to General Dave’s group-think lionization in Washington D.C., I suggest googling “ass kissing little chickenshit” to find out what his superior at CENTCOM, Admiral William Fallon thought of him for “trying to ingratiate himself with a superior.” Added Admiral Fallon: “I hate guys like that.” But hey, the numbskull neocons at the American Enterprise Institute belief tank (like a think tank, only without the doubt) swear by the guy. And with a reactionary recommendation like that, who could not succeed in the high-rent sewer of our nation’s capital? Ass-kissing chickenshits, the lot of them.

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