Why Is Petraeus an Expert on Mosul?

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 US 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 US 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 US I’m sure Iraqi leaders are happy to learn that US experts like Petraeus are behind them, ready to encourage and nudge and cajole. They’re likely happiest with US Apache helicopters and direct tactical assistance via Special Ops teams (yes, there are US 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 US occupation of Iraq, and that ISIS 2.0 came as US forces pulled out, leaving behind Iraqi security forces that the US claimed were ready to defend Iraq, but which fled in 2014, abandoning their weapons and equipment to ISIS forces. Put plainly, US 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 US 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.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views. He can be reached at wastore@pct.edu. Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.

9 thoughts on “Why Is Petraeus an Expert on Mosul?”

  1. I think the success of the surge is a bit more ambiguous than mentioned here.

    Robert Pape has a nice angle on that. He stated that the surge was successful because indeed it funded the sunni opposition, and in a way it pushed the problem further along the road, but paying off the Sunni insurgency was not necessarily a bad thing. His background is suicide terrorism, and he tracks this back to desperate social and political situations much more than to religious fundamentalism. He talks about ungoverned space. I would use the term politicide. A potential way to cool down such situations then is to stabilize the social situation and to take seriously the concerns of the sunni population . What the Iraqi government subsequently did was to crack down on this empowered Sunni opposition, and according to Pape that fueled new terrorism.
    One doesn’t have to agree with Pape in general to see potential value here.

    So what is happening now? The Sunni part of Iraq is still being heavily oppressed while the rebellion is pushed into Syria. That doesn’t sound healthy in the long run, but the motives are of course also ambiguous. The anti-syrian players aren’t interested in calming down the situation either.

    1. the surge was meant to create the space for political reconciliation.(benchmarks???)

      having to paying off the sunni not to fight is proof it was an abject failure.

      1. Nobody said anything about intent. But the effect was a degree of empowerment and this coincided with a more stable period, until an effort came to roll this back. I think empowering the Sunnis makes sense, even if it goes counter the general intuition of ‘beating the terrorists’. What could happen now is that the Turks take more control, with consent of the local Sunnis. That again has its upsides and downsides.

    2. There are some key issues being left out of this conversation. First, US occupation was confronted by joint Shia and Sunni resistance. That situation lasted too long for US taste, so the plan for DAY ONE, was to start sectarian conflict. To do that, first Shia ruler was a cruel and despised human being, and Shia religious leaders blamed him for what they were able to predict — Sunni backlash. But US policy was simple. The military and civil service systems were dismantled overnight, people out of work — mostly Sunni. Still, there was no sign of sectarian fighting, and I remember our neocon media event then praying for the “sectarian conflicts”, like shamans prayed for rain. And then, when some of Sunnis became organized, mostly in Al-Qaeda style resistance, Petraeus jumped at the opportunity. He formed Iraqi “Awakening” and went into business of giving weapons to Sunni population in order to “fight Al-Qaeda”. But — just like magic — shortly thereafter, mass graves of executed Shia people were found. From there — it was a peace of cake. We finally got our “sectarian conflict”. From there on it was predictable — idiotic US appointed Shia rulers continuing the vengeance against Sunnis, still in the name of Saddam Hussein. We all know that if one wants to STOP sectarianism, one has to leave past in the past — not ratchet it up. By the cheerful mantra of Sunni guilt for Saddam rule emanating from Baghdad, it was really just the matter of time before Sunni populated areas and their tribal leaders took matters in their own hands. When Iraq finally got its senses back, it was too late. US was shown the door, but by then, our Iraqi Awakening, combined with Saudi funds and Saudi religious leaders pumping up the Sunnis into frenzy, created ISIS. During that time, who was paying for the massive bombing campaign against Baghdad? During that time, in spite of horrendous death toll among civilians — our media remained rather unsympathetic. Why, that is what you get for asking us to leave — that was the subtext in all the media. It is not that US left — that was not the problem. The problem is, who was bankrolling the campaign of terror in Baghdad? And then, vast swaths of Iraq were taken over by ISIS. To just say how Iraqi military ran — is to fail to notice that ISIS was organized, had access to intelligence, and enough fire power to easily push soldiers from the less fortified places. And the utter cruelty they displayed in dealing with soldiers — was meant to be a message to all soldiers, run while you can. Iraq was not prepared for such organized onslaught — that is plain and simple. There is no denying that ISIS did not come from desert, fully equipped, with thousands of vehicles, satellite communications, internet presence, etc.. It came from a well thought out plan and investment. It undeniably came from Saudi Arabia and its minions. But not without US consent and participation — that just simply would not be possible. After all, US was making huge sales of arms to Saudi Arabia, and one had to ask — what for. So, whatever the constellation of forces made it come about — its outcome was straightforward. Punish Iraq for its refusal to sign SOFA agreement.
      Well, Iraq was forced to take US back, the President who asked US to leave, ousted at US request, and SOFA signed.
      Yes, Petraeus knows a lots more about Mosul then he cares to share. And he knows a lots more about Al-Qaeda in Aleppo. He actually at one of the hearings in Congress made a suggestion that US should — arm Al-Qaeda, otherwise known as Al-Nusra. A collective gasp greeted that idea, but I had a distinct feeling that he was NOT making a suggestion — that it was already the case. And it was not hard. CIA was arming and equipping “vetted” fighters, and infiltrating them from Jordan. After a while, those fighters “disappeared” — and one testimony in Congress in a disbelief discovered that US can only find FOUR of them. What happened to the rest? Of course, went under Al-Qaeda management. Some retained their name — just to have the variety of groups being mentioned, but all of them now are working under Al-Qaeda management. The only ones that stayed out were several hundred splintered groups of once great hope — Free Syrian Army. They stayed alive along Turkish border corridor, where they actually protected their homes against Kurds. So, CIA was funding FSA, and Pentagon Kurds. Then, they fought against each other — and US concluded that Kurds are more useful — especially as Kurds wanted to ethnically cleanse the Turkish border areas of non-Kurds, and connect geographically separate Kurdish area into a continuous state. However, since Turkey stepped in to stop this plan — CIA stopped funding FSA. Naturally, because all of them joined Turkish army, and fought Pentagon backed Kurds. Petraeus knows a great deal about setting all this up in Syria.
      What is amazing is that he got free — after committing by far greater offense then some lesser Government and Military personnel that got jail terms for half as much. He is a proof, if any was needed, that those that are the untouchable elite — are above the law.
      People like him should never have any decision making capability. They know how to make a mess, they are clever, and full of ideas. The problem is, people like him seldom see the bigger picture. What is all this for? How does it advance US interests? US reputation in the world? US global leadership in economic development and security? We are in a position that no conflicts can be brought to a close. Simply because we have alienated everyone — friends and foes alike. They all now have a common cause in preventing further damage to ever expanding devastation of many regions of the world. Getting US out of the weeds is going to be hard. And the sooner we make real friends, not just those that pay into our Foundations, or those that will nod heads because we pay for their NATO security. We need to listen to those that are outside of the circle of our mutual admiration society, and hopefully they are still inclined to help us.

  2. Petraeus is the author of the tremendous US success that was Mosul.. Rather than having to ‘battle down’ an insurgency, he gathered some Sunni Sheiks who were armed to defend the city from AQ and the marauders of the Iranian Al Quds Brigade.

    Worked for a few years until America left, then the Shia forces moved in. They were in turn driven back out by ISIS, another entity organized and armed by the USA.

    Overall result? A big sloppy bust. We’ll see if the city needs to be destroyed this time, to save it.

    Petraeus went on to the Iraq Surge, which led to the Afghan Surge which led him out to pasture and a sinful little she goat who wanted to make him, something famus.

  3. The real motive of Mosul is to push ISIS back into Syria and sabotage the siege of Aleppo. Just wait and see. We’ll take just enough of the city to let the bulk of the ISIS occupation flee out the back door and back into Assad’s Syria and then we’ll throw our collective hands up and act like it was all just more unforeseen blow-back.

  4. Brought to us by Disinformation 2.0 … the soft-in-the-head-ware giant which told us that Iraqi soldiers were killing incubator babies in Kuwait and 11 years later told us that the new Iraq skinny teenage conscript army (the Pentagon released that as well) were moving a million pounds of nerve gas around Baghdad to keep the inspectors from finding it. Oh, yes, they are really good at painting the turd. Polishing it wouldn’t do.

    I was in Fort Worth waiting for a greyhound to get the hell out of there, in the same week the Iranian president was giving a speech at a college in New York and Fox News was having a massive OUTRAGE! and I know that because they had OUTRAGE! plastered across the screen because of the Iranian deal and because the New York Times made a private business decision to give a deal to MoveOn to publish a half page ad at a discount. I mean, if I wanted to sell something or some service of mine at a cost I determined fair, would that back Fox News’s business?

    All that hideously put together paragraph to come to this: one of the things that OUTRAGED! Fox was a lot of people including MoveOn members kept referring to Petraeus as a candidate for antichrist and… Generally Betrays Us.

    Inside the bus station wherein there was the life-giving Air Conditioning they had Fox News on these great big TV screens and really damned loud.
    I’m not in favor of extra intrusive laws but that is one I could get behind. No Fox in public places. I wonder, all things considered, would Fox actually rescind some of the stupid crap they spewed about Betrays Us and how we’re somehow traitors for saying that.

    Looks to me like he’s trying to slither back into some kind of bureaucratic position.

  5. The computer analogy is quite apt.

    “Al Qaeda” and its few clones were birthed during the days of the Relational Database.

    “ISIS” and its many clones comes of age during the days of OLAP.

    The capabilities and sophistication of the terrorist enterprise have grown in direct proportion to how the capabilities of databases have scaled in the same period.

  6. The response Petraeus would probably give is that Obama did not renegotiate US-Iraq Status Force Agreement. The political problems in Iraq are probably still in place which fueled the insurgency in the first place. The surge didn’t fix them then and why should surge 2.0 work any better?

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