Gen. David Petraeus

There should be no doubt, the so-called surge is working, but, in September, I am afraid Gen. Petraeus will downplay the positive effect for fear of appearing too partisan. It is sad that, in today’s society and political environment, it is unacceptable for a general to be… well, a general. Even worse is an ambivalent public afraid to root for their own team.

“Our strategy in going after this army is very simple. First we are going to cut it off, and then we are going to kill it,” Gen. Colin Powell said.

Americans applauded Colin Powell’s comments at a press briefing during the Gulf War, back in the early ’90s, but today such a comment would be met with calls for investigations and the possibility of war crimes. It seems that as society becomes more comfortable, softer, emasculated, the idea of a general who says things generals generally say, during a time of war, is completely unacceptable for a general public “at peace.”

General Colin Powell

Generals lead the military and the function of a military, a good military, is to defeat the enemy. Yet, we live in a society that frowns on little children playing soldier, and that attitude is projected onto grown-ups engaged in the real thing. As citizens, we have become like impatient customers at a fast food restaurant, eyes rolling if we have to wait a little longer for the fries. We want results, security, but like anyone who has worked in the service industry knows – there’s a lot of disdain for the workers.

Petraeus, the hired help, is supposed to get the job done, without making too much noise. The general seems to understand this and has quietly gone to work. Unlike past generals leading his troops, Petraeus has yet to give his men and women a rallying call, an appeal for victory. It is as if he were expecting to get a scolding look of disapproval from an arms-crossed paternalistic public.

I like Gen. Petraeus; he’s what a presentable CEO is to a profitable Fortune 500 company. Casualties, civilian deaths and attacks are down, and the general can make a great presentation to the American public, come mid-September, but leading the world’s most powerful military is more than a positive PowerPoint presentation. As Commander of Multinational Forces in Iraq and leader of the 160,000 troops currently fighting in theater, the general’s responsibility is to the welfare of his troops, not to the fickle political interpretation of his mission.

Those who view the conflict in Iraq as a bumper sticker will ask what victory is, and that’s where we get to some of the problem. Personally, I’m convinced there are many Americans who would like for the United States to “lose” in Iraq, and then there are those who think there simply can be no victory. The media has done its share in blurring the line so that defeat would look something more like an enormous mea culpa to the “international community”, some would consider this a favorable outcome.

Patton, one of the most successful and colorful generals of the 20th century, was a man obsessed with one thing – victory. Can anyone imagine a present day general saying this?

General George Patton

“Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win all of the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed” (speech to the 3rd Army 1944).

Sadly, 60 years later, even the idea of Petraeus patriotically speaking in front of a two-story flag would probably offend many on the home front. Between the pacifying military reality of Baghdad and the brutal political reality of Washington, the lead general is caught in a Chinese finger trap, if he relaxes to wiggle out, he’ll look weak, and if he pulls too hard he will appear pro-war. It is a game forced on him in his role as “military ambassador to the American public” instead of commander of coalition forces in Iraq.

“If I could only have one [thing] at this point in Iraq, it would be more time.”

– Gen. David Petraeus July 10, 2007

To a man leading the most powerful military in the world, it is disconcerting that Petraeus’ greatest concern may not be enemy action but public dissatisfaction. As an embedded reporter with the American military, I write these words from Iraq, where I’ve never met a “pro-war” Marine or soldier; just troops who want to successfully complete their task. There are those who are opposed to this war and those opposed to the idea of war itself – I suspect these are the groups who denounce children playing pretend war in school yards. But when it comes to supporting a true war on a real battlefield, the troops should expect real support.

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