Selling the President’s General
The Petraeus Story
By Tom Engelhardt
You simply can’t pile up enough adjectives when it comes to the general, who, at a relatively young age, was already a runner-up for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2007. His record is stellar. His tactical sense extraordinary. His strategic ability, when it comes to mounting a campaign, beyond compare.
I’m speaking, of course, of General David Petraeus, the President’s surge commander in Iraq and, as of last week, the newly nominated head of U.S. Central Command (Centcom) for all of the Middle East and beyond — “King David” to those of his peers who haven’t exactly taken a shine to his reportedly “high self-regard.” And the campaign I have in mind has been his years’ long wooing and winning of the American media, in the process of which he sold himself as a true American hero, a Caesar of celebrity.
As far as can be told, there’s never been a seat in his helicopter that couldn’t be filled by a friendly (or adoring) reporter. This, after all, is the man who, in the summer of 2004, as a mere three-star general being sent back to Baghdad to train the Iraqi army, made Newsweek’s cover under the caption, “Can This Man Save Iraq?” (The article’s subtitle — with the “yes” practically etched into it — read: “Mission Impossible? David Petraeus Is Tasked with Rebuilding Iraq’s Security Forces. An Up-close Look at the Only Real Exit Plan the United States Has — the Man Himself”).
And, oh yes, as for his actual generalship on the battlefield of Iraq… Well, the verdict may still officially be out, but the record, the tactics, and the strategic ability look like they will not stand the test of time. But by then, if all goes well, he’ll once again be out of town and someone else will take the blame, while he continues to fall upwards. David Petraeus is the President’s anointed general, Bush’s commander of commanders, and (not surprisingly) he exhibits certain traits much admired by the Bush administration in its better days.
Launching Brand Petraeus
Recently, in an almost 8,000 word report in the New York Times, David Barstow offered an unparalleled look inside a sophisticated Pentagon campaign, spearheaded by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in which at least 75 retired generals and other high military officers, almost all closely tied to Pentagon contractors, were recruited as “surrogates.” They were to take Pentagon “talking points” (aka “themes and messages”) about the President’s War on Terror and war in Iraq into every part of the media — cable news, the television and radio networks, the major newspapers — as their own expert “opinions.” These “analysts” made “tens of thousands of media appearances” and also wrote copiously for op-ed pages (often with the aid of the Pentagon) as part of an unparalleled, five-plus year covert propaganda onslaught on the! American people that lasted from 2002 until, essentially, late last night. Think of it, like a pod of whales or a gaggle of geese, as the Pentagon’s equivalent of a surge of generals.