Petraeus and the Press

Spencer Ackerman has a nice column up at TAP Online about the speculation surrounding what's next for David Petraeus. At one point he observes that "Petraeus emerged from his first two assignments in Iraq -- commanding the 101st Airborne Division from 2003 to 2004 and then the training of Iraqi security forces from 2004 to 2005 -- as the only general to leave the war with his reputation enhanced." One interesting question is: How did this happen? Indeed, I think that's one of the greatest stories never told of the Iraq War.

The good reputation he emerged with following his time commanding the 101st can be attributed in large part to the fact that conditions remained unusually good in his AOR compared to what was happening in adjacent AORs. But it was thanks to his good reputation from that first tour that he was selected to head up the vital ISF training mission during his second tour. That mission, however, didn't go well at all. So why did Petraeus' reputation stay good?

Well in part it happened because he's a smart, articulate, well-educated general. But in large part it happened because he's a smart, articulate, well-educated general who was (and is) very good at cultivating the press. In particular, before being appointed to command MNF-Iraq Petraeus was a source, both on and off the record, for a wide variety of journalists both those working "straight" reporting jobs and those doing more opiniated work critical of the Bush administration from both a moderate liberal perspective and a neocon perspective. During that period, he cultivated a lot of good will and credibility that he's deployed to great effect since taking command. The fact that Petraeus has been a source for a lot of the journalists who cover the Iraq debate is a key element in understanding the politics of the surge and of the "Petraeus report." But it's a story that you'll never see reported on in detail because that would violate the rules of the game.