How I Was Drawn Into the Cult of David Petraeus

At the Wired News defense blog Danger Room, a mea culpa of sorts by Spencer Ackerman, who realizes in hindsight that he helped perpetuate a myth of sorts about the recently-disgraced retired general and outgoing CIA chief.
Like many in the press, nearly every national politician, and lots of members of Petraeus’ brain trust over the years, I played a role in the creation of the legend around David Petraeus. Yes, Paula Broadwell wrote the ultimate Petraeus hagiography, the now-unfortunately titled All In. But she was hardly alone. (Except maybe for the sleeping-with-Petraeus part.) The biggest irony surrounding Petraeus’ unexpected downfall is that he became a casualty of the very publicity machine he cultivated to portray him as superhuman. I have some insight into how that machine worked.
Read the rest.


  1. I hope that if Mr. Ackerman heaped scorn on anyone not kowtowing to the military/war/powerful, he’ll have the sense to apologise to them.  If nothing else, it might make him more suspicious of what he’s told to think the next time around. 

    /Jeepers, you’d think that “journalist = skeptic”, eh? 
    //Jeepers, you’d think that “experienced journalist = fool me twice…” Oh wait.

  2. You can argue over the justice of the mission that Petraeus was on, but the results?  The guy is hailed as a conquering hero because he was, well, a conquering hero.  Giving him the credit for results of Iraq is entirely and completely justified.  The US really did implement his counter insurgency strategy in Iraq, and the violence in Iraq truly did drop like a rock.  Before Petraeus, there was serious talk of both putting the boot down Vietnam style, and there was serious talk of just pulling out in the middle of a civil war and wishing them luck filling the security vacuum with something other than ethnic genocide.  Petraeus offered a third way, and the third way worked.  The US left Iraq in about as good of a shape as you can after having spent a few years leveling it.  Petraeus deserves full credit for that.  You can try and be critical of that, but when the other two options were simply ghastly, it is kind of hard.

    1. None of us knows that there were only two other options, just that those options were revealed by a Petraeus-driven media campaign. Funny how that works.

    2.  Actually, no. Violence dropped because the ethnic cleansing the Iraq’s were doing was winding down. He didn’t stop it, it had been ongoing from before he was given command. And not for nothing, counter insurgency is not ‘his’ strategy. It’s been around for some time.

      And, “The US left Iraq in about as good of a shape as you can after having spent a few years leveling it” .. Is complete bullshit.

      1. So the violence stopped “just because”?  That is absurd.  Everyone was winding up.  Money and weapons were pouring in, power struggles were getting worse, and regional powers were backing their guys.  It started because the US kicked over the government and failed to provide security.  It ended when Petraeus instituted his counter insurgency campaign, which unlike the previous one, wasn’t just about blowing people up.  I suppose you think the ethnic genocide in Yugoslavia  also stopped “just because”.

        And, “The US left Iraq in about as good of a shape as you can after having spent a few years leveling it” .. Is complete bullshit.

        As opposed to what?  Stick around for a few more decades?  Say “screw this, I’m out” as soon as the ethnic cleansing started and hope it fixes itself?  After having completely decimated the country and setting up the an ethnic civil war, what better of an outcome could you really be hoping for?  The US shut down the ethnic war they started and got the hell out before they broke anything else.  The US should have never of been there in the first place, but Obama pulling out in the way that he did was exactly the right answer.

          1. The is absurd.  Iraq didn’t run out of people.  The nation still has a solid mix of Kurds, Sunni, and Shia.  They never ran out of bodies or neighborhoods to burn.  In fact, the violence has spiked again as the central government struggles to keep the warring parties from tearing into each other.  Lebanon and Yugoslavia tried killing each other until they ran out of bodies and neither one ever did.  Iraq certainly didn’t run out of bodies in the few years it was fighting with itself.

            Also, read what I actually wrote.  I never said the US left Iraq in “good shape”.  I said, and I quote myself, “The US left Iraq in about as good of a shape as you can after having spent a few years leveling it”.  If you take that to imply that I am saying the US left it as a fantasy land of wonder, you badly misunderstand.  I am saying that the US physically tore the place apart, kicked off a civil war, and made a god damn mess.  After having made a mess and kicked a genocide into gear, stopping the genocide and then getting the fuck out is about as good as you can hope to do.

          2. The Shia have virtually eliminated the Sunni. What I am saying is that COIN was not effective in Iraq. The “surge” happened to coincide with the end of the ethnic cleansing there.  This is well documented.

            Regarding what you meant about the mess in Iraq, sure I guess you meant it that way, but how does Petraeus come off a conquering hero in that respect, except as a 16th century version of that.

        1.  No, the violence “stopped” (became less prevalent) because Iraqis got sick of violence perpetuated by militants from other countries.  Go ahead and google “Sunni awakening,” it’s not as if people hadn’t written hundreds of pages on this already.

  3. Are we in for a round of confessions and apologies by rats fleeing the sinking boat ?

    Only fools ever thought that P. was a superman. He still was extremely competent and, in his own way, probably saved a lot of misery for a lot of human beings. Who, except people to whom he gave his word has a right to judge his private life. What extramarital affair can change anything to what he did professionally ?

  4. Glenn Greenwald has a good takedown of journalist and the cult of Petraeus,

    Petraeus has left a string of failures and even scandals behind him: a disastrous Iraqi training program, a worsening of the war in Afghanistan since he ran it, the attempt to convert the CIA into principally a para-military force, the series of misleading statements about the Benghazi attack and the revealed large CIA presence in Libya. To that one could add the constant killing of innocent people in the Muslim world without a whiff of due process, transparency or oversight.

  5. Looks like Wired, being a sexier version of Pravda, has figured out the shift in balance of power within the security state’s various factions. All hail the new consensus.

    What does shill-in-chief Schactman have to say?

    1. That is so 2006 you deserve an award of something.

      Also, that Julia Allison ain’t no Anka Radakovich! *BOOM*

  6. Spencer Ackerman has always struck me as a total Pentagon tool, selling belligerence to the nerds through military tech awesomeness .

  7. ok, america loves creating myths and then bringing them down, michael jackson, britney spears, military geniuses, etc.

    whats more important? protecting this country or finding a CIA leader without any fault or error?

    we are humans with faults, Petraeus is NOT selling NIkes or playing in the NFL

    1. whats more important? protecting this country…

      As far as I can tell, we’re not in very much danger. And to the extent that we are in danger, it’s because we wander around the world shoving our fist up everybody else’s asses.

  8. I don’t get what his having an affair has to do with his job. Is it because he opened himself to the potential to be blackmailed? Is that it? I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.

    1. He’s a liar and a hypocrite. If he were my employee, which in a sense he is, his career path would take a 180° turn.

      1. He’s a liar and a hypocrite.

        Seeing what the war in Iraq was & is, it seems like he was a perfect fit for the position.

    1. Why are you not concerned that the head of the CIA is a liar? Is lying about sex exempt from moral criticism? Is lying about sex special and different from regular lying?

      1. I thought that was the Clinton lesson. Everyone lies about sex and it has nothing to do with any other public trust we put on someone.

        Or something

      2. Why do you think that being a liar isn’t a job requirement for being head of the CIA?

        /It’s funny, eh. I was just thinking this morning: “Hmm, I haven’t seen any messages from Antinous lately. I wonder if he was on vacation…”

      3. It means one probably want to marry the guy, but beyond that…? He’s human. Everybody lies. This, in particular, seems to be one of the things that vast majority of people would lie about. Compared to the sort of lying our leaders recite to us regularly, this sort is pretty benign.

        The problem isn’t that he lied – practically everyone would under the circumstances. I imagine the bigger criticism is that he allowed himself to get into the position to begin with. It’s not his deceit that condemns him here – it’s his exceptionally poor judgement, something that’s actually relevant to the sort of position he’s working in. He not only lied – he got caught. If you’re the head of the CIA, “getting caught” is probably one of the big no-nos, I’d imagine.

      1. Absolutely — I’ve been following the site since it started back in January.  It’s pretty funny most of the time.  Nobody knows who is actually behind it. Here’s a story about the site from the Los Angeles Times:

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