Petraeus is still lauded as the poster boy for Iraq -- the general that inherited a broken war in 2007 and turned it around in a matter of months. But beneath Petraeus' carefully constructed public image there have always been blemishes, just as there have always been quiet critics of the man journalist Peter Bergen described this week as the "most effective American military commander since Eisenhower."
Petraeus' first assignment after the 2003 invasion of Iraq was overseeing the occupation of Mosul, and his second was attempting to reform the disbanded Iraqi army. The Bush administration heralded both missions as unqualified successes, but neither was as clean as the rosy press coverage suggested. According to an anonymous diplomat quoted in the Guardian in 2007, Mosul "basically collapsed" after Petraeus left and the soldiers he trained were "nowhere to be seen." Petraeus, the diplomat continued, was the "Teflon general."
Around the same time, the former U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith, writing in the New York Review of Books, took Petraeus to task for ignoring warnings from America's Kurdish allies about appointments he made to Mosul's local government. "A few months after he left the city," Galbraith recalled, "the Petraeus-appointed local police commander defected to the insurgency while the Sunni Arab police handed their weapons and uniforms over en masse to the insurgents."
Even the general's signature counterinsurgency doctrine, which was widely credited with reducing sectarian violence in Iraq after 2007, encountered early criticism from Army Col. Gian Gentile, an Iraq veteran who teaches at West Point. Counterinsurgency, he wrote in World Affairs Journal in 2008, was an "over-hyped shift in emphasis that, on the one hand, will not necessarily yield an American victory in Iraq, but on the other might well leave the United States Army crippled in future wars."
It's a criticism that must have rung true for those involved in America's other war, the severely under-resourced campaign in Afghanistan that had been pushed to the backburner after the Iraqi invasion in 2003. Whatever else might be said about Petraeus' strategy in Iraq, some argue it made victory in Afghanistan that much more unlikely given finite U.S. military resources. As Bob Woodward put it in Obama's Wars, "This was a zero-sum game."
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