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How to tell you are in real trouble . . .

Officers With PhDs Advising War Effort

By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 5, 2007; A01

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new U.S. commander in Iraq, is assembling a small band of warrior-intellectuals — including a quirky Australian anthropologist, a Princeton economist who is the son of a former U.S. attorney general and a military expert on the Vietnam War sharply critical of its top commanders — in an eleventh-hour effort to reverse the downward trend in the Iraq war.

Army officers tend to refer to the group as “Petraeus guys.” They are smart colonels who have been noticed by Petraeus, and who make up one of the most selective clubs in the world: military officers with doctorates from top-flight universities and combat experience in Iraq.

Essentially, the Army is turning the war over to its dissidents, who have criticized the way the service has operated there the past three years, and is letting them try to wage the war their way.

“Their role is crucial if we are to reverse the effects of four years of conventional mind-set fighting an unconventional war,” said a Special Forces colonel who knows some of the officers.

But there is widespread skepticism that even this unusual group, with its specialized knowledge of counterinsurgency methods, will be able to win the battle of Baghdad.

“Petraeus’s ‘brain trust’ is an impressive bunch, but I think it’s too late to salvage success in Iraq,” said a professor at a military war college, who said he thinks that the general will still not have sufficient troops to implement a genuine counterinsurgency strategy and that the United States really has no solution for the sectarian violence tearing apart Iraq.

Comments (3) to “How to tell you are in real trouble . . .”

  1. Army officers with PhDs….scary combination. I wonder if they are, as the head of Officer Management at PERSCOM told us a few years ago in Robinson Auditorium, “on the outside track” of the Army profession.

  2. Thomas,

    I am not a military man, nor am I an “intellectual” by any stretch of the imagination. Nonetheless,it has, from the moment George W. Bush announced his intention to invade Iraq, been my firm belief that Iraq was doomed to the sectarian violence that is now threatening to tear it apart. In effect, Bush has opened a Pandora’s box and the sad truth is that it will require another Saddam Hussein to close it, just as it once required a Sargon or Darius to unify the various tribes or sects that then and still exist in that part of the world. In many respects, that society is still living in the dark ages and however repugnant the idea may be to the modern Western world, it is only through the use of brutal medieval-styled force that peace will ever be possible again in that poor country. I would hazard to guess that, in the end, considerably more people will have died since the beginning of this “war” than did during Hussein’s entire regime. Such is Bush’s legacy.

  3. Sometimes I think I am in a time warp where the 1960s are happening simultaneously with the 2000s.

    Petraeus is far from being a dissident—he is the prototypical Airborne Mafia golden boy with all his tickets punched in the right places (USMA, graduate study, combat command, commandant of a senior service school, division and/or corps command). He is the 2007 version of Maxwell Taylor, William C. Westmoreland, Donn Starry, William DePuy, and Norman Schwarzkopf.

    This is a counterinsurgency war. I thought the Army learned this lesson 40 years ago in South Vietnam. Airborne officers do not know how to fight a counterinsurgency war. They know a few conventional tactics—fire and maneuver, use overwhelming firepower, air support, and mobility—but the Airborne mentality is “stomp ’em to death.” Great sound bite, but a flawed strategy.

    Why do I feel it’s spring 1964 again and William Westmoreland (USMA, Harvard, commandant USMA, CG, XVIII Abn Corps) is about to replace Paul Harkins as COMUSMACV?