As he revealed last month, David Petraeus is wracked with apprehension, anxiety, perhaps even panic.
In 2010, then-General Petraeus was tapped to turn around the sputtering U.S. war in Afghanistan. “Clearly the enemy is fighting back, sees this as a very pivotal moment, believes that all he has to do is outlast us through this fighting season,” he said in an interview that August. “That is just not the case.” A year later, Petraeus seemed satisfied. “What we have done is implement the so-called NATO comprehensive approach, a civil-military campaign… which we employed in Iraq in the surge of 2007-2008,” he said. “I think generally, it has borne fruit.”
In 2011, Petraeus handed over command, but the Taliban remained. The enemy had clearly outlasted him -- and they’ve done the same with every U.S. commander since.
Petraeus retired from the Army that same year to take a job as director of the CIA, only to resign in disgrace when it was revealed that he had carried on an extramarital affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell, leaked highly sensitive information to her, and then lied about it to the FBI. Eventually, he pled guilty to a misdemeanor.
Given that tarnished record of his, you could hardly have faulted him for worrying about, say, his legacy. But as it happened, during a recent video conference, the disgraced former general wasn’t ringing his hands over his own failures. His anguish stemmed from President Biden’s pledge to curtail U.S. involvement in the Afghan War, a conflict that has cost the lives of an estimated 241,000 people.
On hearing the news that Biden would withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Petraeus became alarmed. “I'm really afraid that we're going to look back two years from now and regret the decision,” he agonized.
“Petraeus said he worries the Taliban will go on the offensive, ungoverned spaces will grow, and the terrorist organizations that use them will flourish,” wrote Kevin Baron of Defense One. Of course, in the years since America’s invasion of Afghanistan, the Taliban has indeed launched offensive after offensive and won back ever more territory as the number of terrorist groups operating there grew. “I fear that this war is going to get worse,” Petraeus fretted. And it may well, as wars often tend to do. But if winning the war could have made it better, perhaps Petraeus should have done so when he was still in command.
Now, he is “afraid”; he “worries”; he’s wracked with “fear.” And I’m not the least bit surprised. Five years after he bugged out of Afghanistan, David Petraeus even fled from me. And he’s been on the run ever since, ignoring my offer of lunch at the once-tony, now-defunct Four Seasons restaurant in New York City and ducking my interview requests for half a decade. So, take a trip down TomDispatch's memory lane to the night of Petraeus’s great escape (from me) in 2016 and, while you're at it, take a timeless look at a form of military malfeasance practiced -- then as now -- so openly that none dare call it corruption