Email correspondence from the Pentagon document dump reveals Gen. David Petraeus was “happy to” participate in its “puppet” TV military analyst program in 2005. The “talented” military officer was promoted by President Bush to lieutenant general in 2004, with the public mission of training Iraqi military forces. At the behest of Larry Di Rita, Rumsfeld’s “right-hand man” in the Pentagon, Petraeus took on another, secret mission that year, shaping the public perception of the Iraq War and the key question of whether American troops would be able to come home.
PETRAEUS’S PUBLIC RELATIONS MISSION
Larry Di Rita
The August 28, 2005 episode of Meet the Press — as Cindy Sheehan was asking to meet with the President in Crawford, Texas — was focused on Iraq, with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and a panel of retired generals. The generals were Wesley Clark, Wayne Downing, Barry McCaffrey, and Montgomery Meigs. As the New York Times revealed in its exposé, Downing, McCaffrey, and Meigs all participated in the secret briefing program managed by the Pentagon Public Affairs Office.
Documents released by the Pentagon (pp. 22-30) reveal that Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita wanted to make sure the Meet the Press appearance went as well as possible. Friday afternoon, Di Rita thought of using Petraeus. Bryan Whitman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, agreed — “Not a bad idea. That is a tough group and as you know have not been very supportive before.” Whitman sent the “thought downrange” in a message to “Dave,” who immediately went into action, calling and emailing the retired generals from Iraq.
Di Rita complained to Petraeus that “some of these retired military analysts are trying to have it both ways” — supporting generals like Petraeus but criticizing the “secdef,” Donald Rumsfeld, and “his supposed bad plans”:
Petraeus told Di Rita that he was concerned his conversation with McCaffrey didn’t go terribly well:
Petraeus’s calls on behalf of the Pentagon convinced the analysts on Meet the Press to paint a rosy picture of the training of Iraqi forces — which they believed meant American troops would soon start coming home. McCaffrey said:
Well, Tim, to be honest, I’m reasonably optimistic about this. I talked to General George Casey in country and Dave Petraeus, the guy who’s actually in charge of trying to build the Iraqi security forces.
Meigs told Russert:
And when I ask senior Army officials who are longtime friends who aren’t going to give me a BS answer how we’re doing, “Are we winning or losing?” they’re saying, “We’re winning.”
McCaffrey believed that by August 2006:
You’ll have a huge Iraqi security force out in the field. And you’ll see a drawdown of a third or so of U.S. military forces starting in about another year.
Gen. Downing was even more enthusiastic:
I do think that in another year or 15 months, we’re going to be able to start taking the U.S. forces down somewhat, because I think the Iraqi forces are going to be in strength of about 150,000 of both police and army. So I’m very, very positive. And I’m giving you this without any political motive.
Petraeus failed to train a “huge Iraqi security force” independent of US support, and American forces were not drawn down. Rather, in 2007, President Bush promoted Petraeus to a four-star general in command of the Iraq occupation, directing him to oversee the “surge” — raising troop numbers by more than 20,000. One of Petraeus’s first acts as commander was to meet with the Pentagon’s cadre of military analysts.