A Few More Questions For General Petraeus

by Hugh Fitzgerald (Oct. 2007)

Senator Warner: Are you able to say at this time if we continue what you have laid before the congress here, this strategy. Do you feel that that is making America safer?

General Petraeus: Sir, I believe this is indeed the best course of action to achieve our objectives in Iraq.

Warner: Does that make America safer?

General Petraeus: Sir, I don’t know actually. I have not sat down and sorted this in my own mind. What I have focused on and what I have been riveted on is how to accomplish the mission of the multinational Iraq.
— an exchange during the recent testimony of General Petraeus before the Senate

A Few More Questions For General Petraeus:

Q.: General, you have not “sat down and sorted this out in [your] own mind.” Does that make sense? Shouldn’t you not merely “accomplish the mission,” but ask yourself if the mission makes sense?

A.: Sir, I don’t know actually. I have to focus on the job I was given.

Q.: But what if the job, what if the mission, does not make sense?

A.: I’d have to think about that long and hard, Senator.

Q.: You have been in Iraq, General Petraeus, for a long time.

A.: Yes.

Q.: You were there in 2003.

A.: Yes.

Q.: You were there in 2004. You were in Tel Afar. You were building up Iraq’s forces. You were allowing American weaponry to be distributed to what were called “Iraqi” forces without much oversight.

A.: I was there, yes, in 2004. In Tel Afar. And elsewhere in the north. There was no time to waste in getting those weapons into what we thought were the proper hands, Iraqi hands, so they could help defend themselves.

Q.: Not all of those hundreds of thousands of weapons did end up in hands that were using them only to defend themselves, were they?

A.: No, sir.

Q.: Where did that weaponry end up? Isn’t it true that some of it ended up on arms markets, sold to the highest bidder, or even ended up in Syria? Isn’t it true that some of those weapons ended up in the hands of people who hate Americans and want to kill them?

A.: Well, Senator, if we are going to worry about that, there are plenty of people in Iraq to hate Americans and would like to see them dead, and if we counted all of those, I’m just not sure, outside of Kurdistan, how many people we would have left to work with.

Q.: General Petraeus, you have a Ph.D. from Princeton, isn’t that true?

A.: Yes, sir.

Q.: And you have a reputation as being something of a strategic thinker. You wrote a very detailed manual on counter-insurgency. Isn’t that right?

A.: Yes, sir.

Q.: And in that manual, you suggest there are some helpful rules, some generally-applicable principles, that apply to all counter-insurgencies, and that you think they might be helpful in this case.

A.: Yes, sir.

Q.: And one of those rules, or laws or deductions was that, and let’s see if I get this right, that “in general, insurgencies last ten years.” Do I have that right?

A.: Yes, sir.

Q.: General Petraeus, does that mean that we should be prepared to stay in Iraq for another six years – if the “insurgency” in Iraq lasts the average length of time you say an insurgency does last?

A.: Well, sir, I haven’t given that much thought.

Q.: You haven’t?

A.: No, sir, I’ve been too busy with accomplishing the mission, trying to fulfill the mission.

Q.: General, if I were to tell you that a colonel in the British army had written a study concluding that “in general, civil wars last 4.7 years,” what would you say to that?

A.: I’m not sure I understand, Senator.

Q.: Would you find something a bit doubtful about someone who came to such a conclusion, and who thought further that such a conclusion might be useful?

A.: Yes, Senator, I take your point. There are many variables, of course.

Q.: And one of those variables, the biggest variable of them all, in Iraq is that there is both an insurgency, or many insurgencies, and a civil war, or several civil wars, and in the meantime the Muslim population, whatever it is fighting for or against, is certainly not a friend, and cannot be an ally, of the Americans who are, and will remain, Infidels. Isn’t that right?

A.: I couldn’t say actually. But I see what you are saying, and I think it is something I will have to explore with my advisers.

Q.: Yes, that would be helpful. That would be desirable. Now General, some Congressmen have come back from trips to Baghdad, where they met with you, and have reported that you have said the American forces might have to stay another nine or ten years. Is that true?

A.: I may have given that impression, sir. I talk about what might be or could be, not what necessarily will be.

Q.: So you think it might be necessary, it might make real sense, for the American forces, stretched as they are, with all the damage done to the morale, and to the quality of those forces, that everyone in the Pentagon knows about, you think perhaps it might make sense to keep American forces in Iraq for, as one Congresswoman put it last week, “another nine or ten years”?

A.: Sir, the situation in Iraq is evolving. I really couldn’t say. I’m not trying to evade giving you an answer. I just can’t say.

Q.: What kind of regime, what kind of neighborhood, what kind of welcome, do you think people in Iraq would offer Americans for the next nine or ten years?

A.: I really couldn’t say.

Q.: General, the other day I was disturbed to read the transcript of your answers to the set of questions posed to you about Islam. You apparently have read “parts of the Qur’an” but had not heard of the Hadith or Sira. Is that correct?

A.: Yes, sir.

Q.: Do you think that in order to discover the mental make-up of the people in Iraq — I’m not going to call them “Iraqis,” you notice, General — we might, just might, look into Islam?

A.: That makes sense, sir.

Q,: General, what do the officers and men, the soldiers and Marines, learn about Islam? What are they taught at Fort Jackson and Fort Bragg and Fort Benning before they are in country?

A.: I don’t know, Sir.

Q.: You don’t know?

A.: No, sir.

Q.: Do you think you should find out? Do you think morale might improve, and effectiveness might improve, if the soldiers knew in advance what attitudes they would encounter, and where those attitudes come from?

A.: I don’t know, Sir. I’m not sure that the hostility that they encounter is something we should tell them about in advance. They may not necessarily encounter it. They may have their own experiences.

Q.: But that is the general experience, isn’t it?

A.: Yes, sir.

Q.: And many soldiers in Iraq have been quoted as saying they find the “Iraqi” soldiers and police untrustworthy, as well as unwilling to take the risks that American soldiers routinely take? Isn’t that true?

A.: Yes, sir. But that doesn’t prevent us from working with them, as in Anbar Province. The success we have had in Anbar Province has been quite remarkable, sir.

Q.: Isn’t that “success” really a function of the local Sunnis wanting American weapons and money – just the way people all over Iraq, including the Shi’a, have wanted to get their hands on American weapons and American money?

A.: To some extent, Sir.

Q.: And isn’t it also a function of the local Sunnis simply resenting the Al Qaeda people who have been so extreme in their behavior, so domineering, that they have made enemies of the Sunnis?

A.: Yes, sir, there is that.

Q.: So it is really no wonder that the local Sunnis would turn on Al Qaeda, which after all was killing anyone who did not follow their orders?

A.: No, sir.

Q.: Not quite a miracle after all. And even if a “miracle,” a purely local one, that has no relevance to other regions, to the Shi’a in Baghdad or in the entire south of Iraq, does it?

A.: That remains to be seen, Sir.

Q.: Does it? Does it remain to be seen by 160,000 American troops? Do they have to experience it for themselves, or can we use the past as any guide? Do we have any reason to think that the Sunnis who are now, as you put it, “working with us” in Anbar Province, will ever acquiesce in the new status of Sunnis in Iraq?

A.: Senator, I don’t think the Sunnis are happy, anywhere in Iraq, with what has happened to their power. Even those who hated Saddam Hussein now claim they miss him, they wish he would come back.

Q.: And do you trust those Sunnis to be allies of Americans, or rather, while they are willing to work with the Americans, do you think they could ever be permanent allies of the Americans?

A.: Sir, I’ve been so busy trying to accomplish the mission that I just haven’t given this thought. I use what I can. The Sunnis in Anbar help defeat Al Qaeda.

Q.: General, some people say that if the American forces withdraw from Iraq, it is dead certain that “Al Qaeda will take over.” President Bush has said as much. And then other people, with the same certainty, tell us that it is undeniable that if we leave then the Shi’a, along with Iran, will take over all of Iraq. The forces of Al Qaeda hate the Shi’a and call them “Rafidite dogs.” The members of Al Qaeda think the Shi’a are not only not real Muslims, but they also play on the notion that any Shi’a in Iraq cannot be a real Arab, must be a Persian. Isn’t that right?

A.: Something like that, Sir. I haven’t studied the matter very closely.

Q.: So how is it that either Iraq will be taken over, definitely, by Al Qaeda, or by its enemy, the Shi’a, backed by Shi’a Iran? Who’s right?

A.: I don’t know, Sir. I haven’t given it any thought.

Q.: No thought? No thought as to what might happen in Iraq if the Americans withdraw?

A.: No, sir. Except that it would result in a bad situation, with lots of instability and fighting.

Q.: Bad for whom, General?

A.: Well, instability is always bad for America, isn’t it?

Q.: Is it, General? Is instability within the Islamic world bad for us? Is open hostility within the Islamic world bad for us? Was the Iran-Iraq War “bad for us,” as you put it, General?

A.: Well, I don’t think that our oil supplies would be as secure.

Q.: General, do you know that during the Iran-Iraq War oil supplies were largely untouched, and the price of oil went down steadily from 1980 to 1988?

A.: No, Senator, I did not.

Q.: General, President Bush has often spoken of bringing “freedom” and “democracy” to — and these are his words, not mine — “ordinary moms and dads in the Middle East.” Have you ever had occasion to think about those words, and what Islam teaches about “freedom” and “democracy”?

A.: No, Senator, I have not.

Q.: So, would it or would not surprise you to learn that in Islam men are regarded as merely “slaves of Allah” who must fulfill his will, or endure without complaint even his whim, and that it is not right for mere mortals to think that they know best, and that they can vote in just any government or regime they want, but must always and everywhere do the bidding of Allah?

A.: Well, Senator, that’s a tough question. I just don’t know enough about Islam to comment on that. I do know that I’ve always been taught that the love of freedom is universal, that everyone has that love of freedom, and no one wants to be a slave of anything. That’s why my father fled the Netherlands, and brought his boat here. He didn’t want to live under the Nazi occupation. He loved freedom.

Q.: General, I think many people in the Western world, many people in Western Europe, many people in the Netherlands right now, are worried about whether or not they will live in freedom. But you know, they are worried about a different kind of occupation, a new threat to their freedom. And General, I don’t think we are going about it the right way. I don’t think Iraq is the place to be.

A.: Senator, I don’t know anything about what is going on in the Netherlands today, or the rest of Western Europe. I’m under CentCom.

Q.: General, as you know, the Shi’a Arabs are about 60-65% of the population. So in any “democracy” that we bring them, they are going to win the vote, win power, have the Shi’a rule. Isn’t that right?

A.: Well, I suppose if there is bloc voting you could say that. But if they vote for individuals, that wouldn’t necessarily happen.

Q.: Do you think that in Iraq most people vote as individuals, for individual candidates, and pay no attention to whether those candidates are Sunni Arabs, or Shi’a Arabs, or Kurds?

A.: Senator, during the elections in Iraq I was not part of the Observer Force. I had many other things to do, many other things on my mind. I’ve got a war to fight, I’ve got people to train.

Q.: General, I have some figures here. The war in Iraq has cost a certain amount to date. And there is more to come, even if we were to announce a total withdrawal tomorrow. There is the cost of bringing home all that equipment, for example. Isn’t that right?

A.: Assuming we do bring it all home, yes, Senator.

Q.: Do you think it makes sense to leave that equipment behind, General? Are you quite sure that the mutually hostile groups in Iraq won’t use that equipment in ways that we wouldn’t approve?

A.: No, Senator, I’m not.

Q.: General, on another question, could you tell us how keeping American troops in Iraq has an effect on the Jihad elsewhere in the world?

A.: Sorry, I’m not sure I understand the question.

Q.: Well, in 1970 there were 15,000 Muslims in the Netherlands. And now there are a million. And in some cities in Europe, or parts of the biggest cities, the police do not go, and non-Muslims feel unsafe. And everywhere there are mosques and madrasas going up.

A.: I’m still not sure I understand the question.

Q.: I would like you to tell us what the continued presence of American troops in Iraq, for another year, or another five years, or another ten years, would do to the instruments of Jihad to spread Islam around the world. For example, what effect those American forces would have on the spread of Islam all over the globe? And since Jihad to spread Islam, until it dominates everywhere, and Muslims everywhere rule, is a central duty in Islam, how does our being in Iraq help in the war of self-defense against the Jihad?

A.: Senator, I haven’t really given that much thought. I’ve been focused on the mission.

Q.: General, you have been following the news in Europe, haven’t you?

A.: Well, of course, sir, I try to stay informed.

Q.: And you know that all over the countries of Western Europe there is great alarm over what people have been discovering about the behavior, the attitudes, the beliefs, of their Muslim populations, and it seems the more they find out about Islam, the more worried they become. Are you aware of that?

A.: Well, Senator, not actually. In a general sort of way I know that immigrants always have a tough time adapting.

Q.: Do they now? Did your father, Sixtus Petraeus, have difficulty when he arrived in the United States in 1940, fleeing the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands — did he have difficulty integrating into American society?

A.: No, Senator, he didn’t.

Q.: General Petraeus, is it possible that an ideology, that is a Total Belief-System, may in fact mold the worldview of those who are taught from infancy to believe in that Total System, and who learn almost nothing outside of what that Total System permits, and who grow up surrounded by family members and others who have never doubted, never been allowed even to be exposed to the doubts expressed by others, that Total System?

A.: I’m not much on ideology, Senator. I’m a kind of hands-on guy. I do my job. And my job is doing the very best I can as a member of the Armed Forces of the United States.

Q.: General, what constitutes fighting a war?

A.: Senator, I would say that what we are doing right now in Iraq constitutes fighting a war. Yes, in Iraq we are fighting a war.

Q.: A war against whom?

A.: Against the terrorists and those who would deliver Iraq over to the terrorists.

Q.: General, do you think Pakistan has been delivered over to the terrorists?

A.: I couldn’t say, Senator.

Q.: What about Saudi Arabia? Has Saudi Arabia been delivered over to the terrorists?

A.: As I understand it, Senator, the Saudis have been doing their utmost to de-program their own homegrown Al Qaeda members — and we can learn from them.

Q.: Can we? Are you quite sure? And do you know how Saudi Arabia has spent some one hundred billion dollars spreading Islam throughout the Western world?

A.: No, I’m not familiar with Saudi finances, sir. I concentrate on the military aspect of things.

Q.: General, can you tell us why we are in Iraq?

A.: Well, let me put it this way. I am in Iraq to accomplish the mission. I haven’t given much thought as to larger questions. I have a job to do and I am giving it the very best I can.

Q.: I think that about sums it up. This session is adjourned.


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