In defense of Petraeus-as-author

I am sorry to disagree with someone from my home town and someone from my own magazine at the same time, but I think it's silly to complain that David Petraeus's 20-year-old PhD dissertation from Princeton has lots of vapid passages. I'll make this challenge (though I probably won't take the time actually to carry it out): give me any 20-year-old PhD dissertation in the social sciences, and I will show you lots of vapid passages.

The significant points are these: first, the relevant document for which Petraeus can claim credit, if not as author then as supervising editor/publisher/protector, is the new Army/Marine Corps Field Manual 3-24, on counterinsurgency. This is not a vapid or silly piece of work -- certainly not if taken in context with previous Field Manuals.In fact, it's arguably the most scathing indictment of the Administration's entire approach to Iraq, with its discussions about the need to solve political problems politically rather than with brute force, its emphasis on the importance of low-tech human interactions as opposed to reliance on high tech, its calculations of the force presence needed for a successful occupation, etc.

And, second: the "New Jesus" use to which Petraeus, his reputation, and his counterinsurgency doctrine are being put is shameful. With the release of the vaunted Petraeus Report over the next month, we'll see whether his destined role is as victim of the Administration's policy ("we brought in this guy Petraeus, but he screwed up the surge and didn't solve the political problems") or as enabler of it ("Dave -- that's General David Petraeus -- has been on the scene and confirms that our strategy against Al Qaeda/Iraq is working, and that we must fight them there so we don't have to fight them here. Above all we must not cut and run...")

What Petraeus is doing now, and will do in coming months, is all that matters. Not whatever "the future lies ahead" passages he may have cranked out to get his dissertation done.