The reality regarding the Iraq "surge" in 2007 was that much of the reduction in violence in Iraq derived from policies of Petraeus's predecessors, including the implementation of the so-called Sunni Awakening which involved paying off Sunni tribal leaders to turn against al-Qaeda extremists and the killing of al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Sectarian violence also had led to a de facto separation of Sunnis and Shiites and thus a natural burning-out of the civil strife. All these developments occurred in 2006 before President Bush ordered the "surge" in 2007 and put Petraeus in charge.
The "surge" actually led to a spike in violence in Iraq before the other factors contributed to a gradual reduction. Nevertheless, Official Washington's conventional wisdom was framed around the "successful surge" credited to President Bush, Gen. Petraeus and the neocons.
Though nearly 1,000 U.S. soldiers died during the "surge," its primary effect was to enable Bush and the other Iraq War architects to leave office without the legacy of a clear-cut military defeat hung around their necks. At the end of 2011, the U.S. military left Iraq with little to show for Bush's investment of blood and treasure.
Besides Bush, the chief beneficiaries of the "successful surge" myth were Gen. Petraeus and Bush's last Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Both remained as part of the high command after Barack Obama took office in 2009, as the young President didn't want an abrupt break with Bush's war policies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the "continuity" trapped Obama when he tried to steer the wars toward conclusions. While pursuing the drawdown of troops in Iraq, he asked for less aggressive options in the Afghan War, only to have Gates, Petraeus and other Bush holdovers maneuver him into authorizing another "surge" for Afghanistan.
Behind the President's Back
As Bob Woodward reported in his book, Obama's Wars, it was Bush's old team that made sure Obama was given no option other than to escalate troop levels in Afghanistan substantially. The Bush holdovers also lobbied for the troop increase behind Obama's back.
According to Woodward's book, Gates, Petraeus and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, refused to even prepare an early-exit option that Obama had requested. Instead, they offered up only plans for their desired escalation of about 40,000 troops.
Woodward wrote: "For two exhausting months, [Obama] had been asking military advisers to give him a range of options for the war in Afghanistan. Instead, he felt that they were steering him toward one outcome and thwarting his search for an exit plan. He would later tell his White House aides that military leaders were "really cooking this thing in the direction they wanted.'"
In mid-2011, Obama finally eased Gates out of the Pentagon and replaced him with one of the President's most trusted advisers, Leon Panetta, who had been serving as director of the CIA. At CIA, Panetta had overseen back-channel contacts between the White House and the Iranian leadership and other sensitive initiatives.
To complete the personnel shift -- and to keep the Republican-leaning Petraeus out of presidential politics in 2012 -- Obama put Petraeus in as CIA director. But Obama's inner circle never trusted Petraeus who was known to have built political support for his military career by cultivating the loyalty of Washington's top neoconservatives.
For instance, in 2009 when Obama was deciding what to do about Afghanistan, Gen. Petraeus personally arranged extraordinary access to U.S. field commanders for two of his influential neocon friends, Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations and Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute.
"Fears of impending disaster are hard to sustain ... if you actually spend some time in Afghanistan, as we did recently at the invitation of General David Petraeus, chief of U.S. Central Command," they wrote upon their return. They said...
"Using helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, and bone-jarring armored vehicles, we spent eight days traveling from the snow-capped peaks of Kunar province near the border with Pakistan in the east to the wind-blown deserts of Farah province in the west near the border with Iran. Along the way we talked with countless coalition soldiers, ranging from privates to a four-star general."
Their access paid dividends for Petraeus when they penned a glowing report in the Weekly Standard about the prospects for success in Afghanistan -- if only President Obama sent more troops and committed the United States to stay in the war for the long haul.
Besides getting neocons to put public pressure on the President, Petraeus turned to Boot in 2010 when Petraeus felt he had made a mistake in allowing his official congressional testimony to contain mild criticism of Israel. His written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee had included the observation that "the enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests" in the Middle East and added: