Saturday, February 20, 2010

David Petraeus speaks at Princeton University 

More than four years ago, long before the "surge" and victory in Iraq, (then Lt.) General David Petraeus spoke at Princeton, and your blogger was there to cover it. Both security and attendance were lax, and the general gladly acceded to my request for a photo (fortunately, I've lost weight since then). At that time General Petraeus had distinguished himself in Iraq, first as the commander of the 101st Airborne and then as the head of the multi-national "transition command." In that capacity he organized the training of the new Iraqi Army. He stopped in Princeton in October 2005 on his way to his then new assignment at Ft. Leavenworth, where he created -- or perhaps resurrected -- the Army's counterinsurgency doctrine.

Today, General Petraeus is back on campus to receive the University's James Madison Medal. The Madison Medal is

named for the fourth president of the United States and the person many consider Princeton's first graduate student. Established by the Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni, it is presented each year by the University to an alumnus or alumna of the Graduate School who has had a distinguished career, advanced the cause of graduate education or achieved an outstanding record of public service....

He was introduced this morning as "the most distinguished soldier of his generation," and that is surely true. From the University's press release:
Petraeus has gained renown both as a military leader and public intellectual. After 19 months as the top U.S. commander in Iraq, he assumed leadership of the U.S. Central Command -- which oversees American forces in East Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia -- in October 2008.

Before taking over as the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Petraeus served as head of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He previously was the first commander of the Multinational Security Transition Command in Iraq and the NATO Training Mission in Iraq. Prior to that, he was commanding general of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) in Iraq.

Petraeus was selected last spring as the speaker at Princeton's Baccalaureate ceremony, where he urged graduating seniors to pursue public service, saying "Princeton has uniquely prepared you for such service." He was selected by President Shirley M. Tilghman after consultation with senior class leaders who recommended Petraeus because he represents the University's informal motto of "Princeton in the nation's service and in the service of all nations."

"The Woodrow Wilson School is very proud that Gen. David Petraeus was selected as the 2010 recipient of the James Madison Medal," Paxson said. "Gen. Petraeus is an alumnus who has served his country with distinction for more than 30 years and has exemplified the core values and informal motto of Princeton University. He is a superb example of a scholar-soldier and recognized around the world as a man of intelligence and integrity."

Petraeus has been honored for his service with the Defense Department Distinguished Service Medal, the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Department Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal, the State Department Distinguished Service Award, the NATO Meritorious Service Medal, the Gold Award of the Iraqi Order of the Date Palm and the French Légion d'Honneur.

This time, General Petraeus spoke before a packed audience in Alexander Hall's Richardson Auditorium. Security was tight, and you needed both a reservation and a photo ID to get in.

David Petraeus, speaking in Alexander Hall

Not surprisingly, the general spoke carefully in his prepared remarks -- much of which were given over to gratitude for Princeton and his professors here. His formal topic was not, in fact, an "update from USCENTCOM commander," as advertised, but a more thoughtful reflection on the challenges and methods of organizational change. Petraeus' observations about the importance of pushing down initiative in to the lower echelons are useful for any executive in any large organization, military or otherwise, with a difficult and complex mission. The question and answer session was excellent.

Rather than recreating the talk here, I'll post a link to the video when it becomes available on the University's site. It will be worth your time.

General Petraeus spoke without slides, but he did put up a couple during the Q&A. The first is a graph of the violence in Iraq, and its precipitous fall after the first few weeks of the "surge." It will be familiar to readers of "milblogs," but probably not to most of his audience in Princeton today.

David Petraeus, reduction of violence

The other point he made, or at least illustrated, was that American soldiers reenlisted in Iraq in record numbers. He posted this slide of a reenlistment ceremony in one of Saddam's old palaces in Baghdad, and noted that these thousands of soldiers, many of whom had served two or three tours, were re-upping while in the theater of operations rather than heading home. He noted, probably for the lefties in the crowd, that these soldiers made their decision before the economy tanked, and would have had no problems getting good jobs on their return.

David Petraeus, reenlistment

The other night at dinner a heard a distinguished conservative scholar note that in 1940 we already had Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton, and Marshall. Did we have such men to lead our wars today, he wondered. I'd say so.


By Blogger Bomber Girl, at Sat Feb 20, 02:54:00 PM:

Well said.  

By Blogger Southern Man, at Sat Feb 20, 05:52:00 PM:

Is it too early to start fantasizing? Petraeus / Palin '12 has a nice ring to it...  

By Blogger Don Cox, at Sun Feb 21, 05:40:00 AM:

Petraeus, yes. He would be a great President.

Palin, no. She might make a replacement for Oprah, but she is not of Presidential calibre, or anywhere near it.  

By Blogger Stephen, at Sun Feb 21, 12:26:00 PM:

Gen. Petraeus gives us hope that class (not in the sociological or economic but behavioral sense) and character still eventually find their own level. I think of the execrable "betray-us" ad that, yes, betrayed more about its creators than the subject. Kudos to the General and to Princeton for honoring him.     

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Feb 21, 01:10:00 PM:

Here's the AP report on the speech, which includes the nice note that the General signs many of his memos "PITNS", as a reference to the university motto "Princeton in the Nations Service".

Petraeus seems so non-political, and so well employed in his military role, that one wonders if he would ever agree to become a politician. Who even knows what his politics really are? I say, let him engineer a quasi modern nation-state in Afghanistan, where one hasn't really stood before, and let him retire to teach at the Wilson School. He'll have earned it, like no one else before him.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Sun Feb 21, 02:54:00 PM:

"she is not of Presidential calibre, or anywhere near it"

And what exactly did BO accomplish in his life prior to Nov. 2008 that showed he was anywhere near "presidential caliber"? I've been asking libs this question for over a year and still haven't gotten a straight answer, most likely because there isn't one.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Feb 21, 02:57:00 PM:

I'm glad to read/hear that General Petraeus is speaking out on important issues. The administration should take more advantage of his "endorsements" of its positions with respect to torture (against), Gitmo closing (for it) and DADT (time may be right).

From Meet The Press this morning

I have always been on the record, in fact, since 2003, with the concept of living our values. And I think that whenever we've perhaps taken expedient measures, they've turned around and bitten us in the backside.

Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are non biodegradable. They don't go away. The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick.... Beyond that, frankly, we have found that the use of interrogation methods in the army field manual that was given the force of law by Congress, that that works."
[Ha! Take that Dick Cheney]

As for DADT: I know, I served, in fact, in combat with individuals who were gay and who were lesbian in combat situations. Frankly, you know, over time you said, hey, how’s this guy shooting or how is her analysis or what have you?

Palin/Petraeus? Please. He seems way too smart for that.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Feb 21, 03:15:00 PM:

We heard General Petraeus speak at the OSS Society Dinner last May where he was awarded the William J.Donovan Award. This is not an annual award and is only given when and where deserved. The general gave a very impressive speech. BTW no General can avoid being a politician. There's a saying in the military that, "Any man can make Colonel, but it takes a wife to make General." One tidbit that the General dropped that night is that he married the West Point Superintendent's daughter.

See a list of former recipients at the end of the linked page above. The brass was thick that night including Gen. McCrystal. Sitting at our table in the back with the rest of the peons was McCrystal's ADC. All military were in dress uniform and the civilians had name tags except for one woman at our table who, at first, I wrote off as somewhat of a bimbo. Turns out that she is this woman.

We are members of the OSS Society because my 98 YO MIL was in it during WWII. She is mentioned briefly in this book. She was not as big a name in the OSS as Julia Childs whom she knew than or Jeanne Begg Clagett who was my wife's godmother.

JLW III '67  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Feb 21, 03:16:00 PM:

"Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are non biodegradable. They don't go away. The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick...."

I'm a little surprised the General would so categorize a certain faction of the major media. But, I can't argue. He would know, I guess.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sun Feb 21, 10:22:00 PM:

Don't stick too much value on anything Petraeus (or any other flag officer) says in agreement with administration political positions (i.e. regarding interrogation, et al). He has to publicly agree with his boss, no matter his personal opinions. Such statements are no evidence one way or the other. Likewise with statements about his unwillingness to run for office; to admit otherwise and thereby openly challenge the president for his job is a terrible idea.

I'd also like to remind everyone that Abu Ghraib had nothing to do with interrogations. Just in case.

On Palin: I submit that she is not presidential material any more than Obama was. At one point in our history, serious statesmen and leaders who had more accomplishments to their name than incomplete terms in office and being photogenic sought the presidency. She seems to be doing a bang up job of giving national voice to conservative values and driving her opposition fucking crazy; stick to that. We've had enough community organizers running this country, and that's more or less what she has become.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Feb 22, 12:37:00 AM:

Dawn :I'd also like to remind everyone that Abu Ghraib had nothing to do with interrogations.

What are you talking about?? A bunch of soldiers were court martialed, sent to prison, dishonorably discharged and demoted because the interrogation technigues they used on detainess violated the Uniform Military Code of Justice (regardless of the fact that the "enhanced" techniques were approved by Rumsfeld for use in Gitmo, and subsequently approved for use at Abu.)

I suggest before you dismiss General Petraeus' comments and attempt to rewrite the history of this chapter, too, that you bone up on the facts first, Dawn boy. Just a thought. Just in case.  

By Anonymous sirius_sir, at Mon Feb 22, 01:46:00 PM:

All this protracted Sturm und Drang over Abu Ghraib ignores an essential fact, one that Chris Hitchens put succinctly, if contentiously, in the opening remarks of a column written way back in Sept. 2005:

LET ME BEGIN WITH A simple sentence that, even as I write it, appears less than Swiftian in the modesty of its proposal: "Prison conditions at Abu Ghraib have improved markedly and dramatically since the arrival of Coalition troops in Baghdad."


I'd only add that conditions have improved continually since the arrival of Coalition troops. If the jihadists and anti-American propagandists want to make that their cause celebre, then as far as I'm concerned they're welcome to it. But it does seem a rather thin reed to stand on.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Mon Feb 22, 04:28:00 PM:

"What are you talking about?? A bunch of soldiers were court martialed, sent to prison, dishonorably discharged and demoted because the interrogation technigues they used on detainess violated the Uniform Military Code of Justice"

You are completely, utterly, and 100% wrong.

Military Police (you know, the soldiers who were busted) do not conduct interrogations of hostile combatants. Not only are they not trained in it, they are not authorized to do it, and I challenge you to find me more than a handful of MPs in the entire army who are sufficiently proficient in Arabic to successfully interrogate an Arab. There is an entire intelligence MOS devoted to that (it was 97E when I was at the schoolhouse; now it's 35-something or other).

It was completely impossible for those troops to properly interrogate any of their Iraqi prisoners, and I don't give a shit what CBS had to say about it. The powers-that-were TRIED to tie the incident to Army intelligence, and they failed. The Lt. Col. in charge of the facility at the time turned on his own intel troops, alleging some sort of secret instruction that bypassed his chain of command, to try to save his own ass. People that I personally knew testified about this little charade.

Apparently, some rubes bought the whole sordid lie.

"you bone up on the facts first, Dawn boy."

I get pretty tired of repeating my credentials on this blog for every new Anonymous fuckwit who thinks they're an expert on intelligence and deigns, despite their ignorance, to talk down to me. I walked that walk. You, obviously, did not.

So why don't you piss off and get your facts straight, kid.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Feb 22, 05:01:00 PM:


Chill out DF. You're commenting online. Not talking with your wife.  

By Blogger Gary Rosen, at Tue Feb 23, 03:35:00 AM:

DF is already "chilled out". He was a lot more restrained than I would have been had I been insulted by an ignoramus the way he was.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Feb 23, 09:45:00 AM:

You go, DF82. These folks aren't making an effort to correct their own ignorance and need to be called out.  

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