An article for the current affairs website TomDispatch by Danny Sjursen, a serving officer in the United States Armed Forces and the author of Ghost Riders of Baghdad, examining the long shadow of the Vietnam War in American military thinking, allows the editor Tom Engelhardt to make this interesting point. The subject is David Petraeus, the former General and CIA Director who fell from power in 2012 due to his romantic – and arguably, narcissistic – entanglements with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
Petraeus nonetheless remains the go-to military god of the twenty-first-century American pantheon of war. He’s the modern stand-in for Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Douglas MacArthur — the only catch being that, unlike them, he didn’t win his wars; not via his famous “surge” in Iraq, nor as the head of U.S. Central Command overseeing the war on terror in the Greater Middle East, nor in his commandership of the war in Afghanistan. In an age when winning American generals are like polar bears in the tropics, after 16 years of constant warfare across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa, he’s the best this country has to offer.
Which is undoubtedly true. And despite the claims of the Trump apologists that the US president has single-handedly masterminded the defeat of the insurgent Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, that “victory” is not one of American arms (arguably, of all the non-regional governments intervening in the Syrian civil conflict, the Russian Federation is the only one to emerge with its war aims intact).
In light of the above points, Sjursen’s claim in the article itself that the US military and intelligence services have drawn all the wrong conclusions from the former struggle in Vietnam, is quite convincing. Indeed, reading the piece, one is reminded again and again of the post-Troubles’ revisionist history promoted by the UK Armed Forces from 2006 onward, attempting to transform thirty years of battlefield stalemate into a counterinsurgency triumph (ironically, of course, the American commanders in Iraq during 2003-2011 soon discovered that the much vaunted expertise of the British Army against guerrilla groups bore no relationship to reality).
Read the whole essay over on TomDisptach; it deserves your attention.