Noted for being effective in the search for solutions to the deep and complex issues which plague Iraq and Afghanistan, the Petraeus Doctrine has offered a new approach to fighting terrorism and dangerous insurgent armies. Perplexed by two grueling battles that have lasted longer than expected, what U.S. General David Petraeus hoped to discover in his thorough revision of the army/marine operational combat counterinsurgency manual was a better way to deal with the difficulties of “irregular warfare” and rogue terrorism (Robinson, 78) (Ricks, 24).
As successes in the War on Terror have become increasingly associated with Gen. Petraeus, people may have forgotten the previous military stance on combat. To provide a contrast between the two, Boston University professor Andrew Bacevich notes the difference between the Powell and Petraeus strategies:
In the 1990′s the Powell Doctrine, with its emphasis on overwhelming force, assumed that future American wars would be brief, decisive, and infrequent. According to the emerging Petraeus Doctrine, the Army (like it or not) is entering an era in which armed conflict will be protracted, ambiguous, and continuous—with the application of force becoming a lesser part of the soldier’s repertoire (Bacevich, 2008).
Before Petraeus stepped in, the U.S. approach to dealing with the situation in Iraq was ineffective, to the extent that U.S. and Coalition forces were, in some ways, doing more harm than good. Kagan and Kagan describe:
U.S. military operations tended to be reactive rather than proactive, episodic rather than sustained. The insufficiently trained and equipped ISF [Iraqi Security Forces] had been pushed prematurely into the fight and, rather than conducting counterinsurgency operations, relied on ineffective checkpoints. As a result, security ebbed and flowed through neighborhoods and towns but was rarely lasting, and the presence of Coalition forces provided little sense of security for Iraqi civilians (Kagan and Kagan, 2008)
Under the previous administration, or during the Powell era, U.S. operational forces were known for being aggressive and overly confident. What the basis of the Powell Doctrine expressed was “that the country should not go to war unless vital national interests are threatened, and then the use of force must be overwhelming and accompanied by manifest public support and a clear exit strategy. If such conditions were rigorously applied, military force might never again be employed” (Robinson, 57).
With the prolonged effort in Iraq, the U.S. military needed to find a new direction and formulate a different plan which was facilitated by General Petraeus. Petraeus’ broad and multi-faceted plan was meant to fill in where Powell, and others, left off. Rather than just relying on brute force, part of Petraeus’ plan was to befriend the locals, to open up lines of communication and to initiate cultural exchange (Robinson, 71). This would help army intelligence to secure valuable information about the enemy, while helping to change the stigma that U.S. and Coalition forces were overbearing and culturally insensitive (Ricks, 25). In effect, it became Petraeus’ mission to not only change the way the army operated, but to change the way it thought about war (Ricks, 27).
To briefly summarize Petraeus’ operational plan, he hoped to first establish a sense of security in Iraq, then to help rebuild, not to restructure, and in the long-run, to foster an environment of political stability and economic self-sufficiency. This is essentially a diplomatic approach, which is focused on attacking the root of deep social issues, in this view, the only true way to build stability and make forward progress. Petraeus also wanted to help win over the locals in Iraq and then in Afghanistan and facilitate the establishment of local governance (Ricks, 369). These goals were suffering as a result of the Sunni mistrust and rejection of U.S. and Coalition efforts to implant a new, democratically elected government (Robinson, 80).
In addition to strong diplomatic involvement, Petraeus leaned heavily on his knowledge of military history and the wisdom of great military leaders of the past. The son of a Dutch war captain and a librarian, Petraeus was drawn to the military and a good education by both his parents (Robinson, 50). Petraeus studied first at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York, completed officer training and army Ranger School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and later earned his master’s and Ph.D. from Princeton University in New Jersey (Robinson, 54, 57). Petraeus is an over-achiever who consistently excelled in his studies and as an officer trainee. He works out daily with 5-10 mile runs (Robinson, 67) and is devoted to learning. In numerous respects, Petraeus is a model leader.
The primary professional contribution of Petraeus during his career as a U.S. military general is a new model for counterinsurgency (COIN), which is less focused on the aggressive use of force. By going beyond convention to advance freedom and democracy, Petraeus has fought through the difficult situations which have presented themselves in both Iraq and Afghanistan despite the slow progress and enormity of the task of combating worldwide terrorist threats. The contributions that Petraeus has made toward a new COIN approach have been helpful in a way that seems to have made U.S. soldiers more sensible and adept at dealing with the complexity of irregular warfare.
In sum, the Petraeus approach appears to be a logical progression ahead—that is, it is proving to be a better way to win in a world where dangerous insurgencies and rogue terrorism, rather than large-scale symmetric warfare, are fast becoming the norm. The Petraeus Doctrine has also been helpful to rebuild societies and spread positive change within the communities in which the US is involved. In the end, Petraeus’ effective alternative to counterinsurgency combat will contribute to gains in foreign policy, while helping to improve the reputation of the U.S. military at home and abroad.
Bacevich, Andrew J. “The Petraeus Doctrine.” The Atlantic Online, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/10/the-petraeus-doctrine/6964/, Oct. 2008. Web. 31 Jan. 2010.
Kagan, Frederick and Kimberly Kagan. “The Patton of Counterinsurgency,” The Weekly Standard, http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/014/822vfpsz.asp, 10 Mar. 2008, Vol. 13, No. 25. Web. 22 Aug. 2011.
Ricks, Thomas E. The Gamble. The Penguin Press: New York, 2009.
Robinson, Linda. Tell Me How This Ends. Public Affairs: New York, 2008.