Can Brainiacs Save the War in Iraq?


That’s the question asked in a Washington Post article that says new Iraq commander David Petraeus has put war planning in the hands of a team of “warrior-intellectuals” who have been leading critics of the way the Army has operated for the last three years.

In effect, the war has been turned over to a special group of dissidents — “military officers with doctorates from top-flight universities and combat experience in Iraq” — who are being told, “Here, you try.” The new counter-insurgency chief is “an outspoken officer in the Australian Army” who “holds a PhD in anthropology, for which he studied Islamic extremism in Indonesia.” Petraeus’ executive officer “received a PhD at Ohio State for a dissertation on how U.S. Army infantry divisions were developed during World War II.” One of Petraeus’ advisors is based at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London and wrote a book “about the failures of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Vietnam War.”

This infusion of talent is undoubtedly a good thing, but one wonders (1) why it took so long to get the Army’s most qualified people on the scene, and (2) if even the military’s best brain trust can save a bad situation. The Post article quotes two professors as saying Petraeus’ new plan is inevitably destined for failure because the conditions on Iraq are past the point of redemption.

Leigh was thinking the same way last week when she wrote that Petraeus is being set up to fail.

If we fail in Iraq it will no longer be the fault of the Bush administration’s years of incompetence before, during and after the war (all of which is thoroughly documented in the Mother Jones timeline). This is the same criticism that has been made about Bush’s escalation of troops, that the administration can claim, “we sent 20,000 troops, what more can we do?” Now, they have an even better scapegoat — the most revered General in the United States Army. That seems fair. “Look, if Petraeus couldn’t do it, there was nothing more that possibly could have been done,” they’ll say, as they wipe their hands clean. What is even more infuriating is that maybe it can be done, maybe Petraeus’ insurgency doctrine has all the answers or he has several other tricks up his sleeve. But if the administration’s past actions have been any indication of how well they support their military leaders in Iraq, it doesn’t matter what the doctrine looks like, Petraeus won’t be given the resources or the freedom to show us how talented he really is.

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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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