POLITICS
04/15/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Wall Street Journal Pregames Petraeus, Discounts Dissent

On one level, it is fortunate that the Wall Street Journal, a day before General David Petraeus arrives on Capitol Hill to re-engage his attempts to sell the "Surge" as a success, gives space to the opinions of West Point history professor Lieutenant Colonel Gian Gentile. Gentile, who served two tours of duty in Iraq, takes a dissenting view from the administration on the efficacy of the "Surge," and has additional concerns about how the never-ending war in Iraq is affecting the training and readiness of the military:

[Gentile] argues that Gen. Petraeus's counterinsurgency tactics are getting too much credit for the improved situation in Iraq. Moreover, he argues, concentrating on such an approach is eroding the military's ability to wage large-scale conventional wars.

"We've come up with this false narrative, this incorrect explanation of what is going on in Iraq," he says. "We've come to see counterinsurgency as the solution to every problem and we're losing the ability to wage any other kind of war."

Journal reporter Yochi J. Dreazen points out that, "Col. Gentile is giving voice to an idea that previously few in the military dared mention: Perhaps the Petraeus doctrine isn't all it's cracked up to be." Indeed, this seems to be the case:

The gist of Col. Gentile's argument is that recent security gains in Iraq were caused by the ceasefire declared last year by Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr as well as the U.S. decision to enlist former Sunni militants in the fight against Islamist extremists. Col. Gentile notes that violence spiked after Mr. Sadr's militia briefly resumed fighting last month.

Gentile seems to have a fairly succinct way of looking at the matter, and, unlike many of the pro-"Surge" arguments, it has one key advantage: it fully squares with the facts. Yet Dreazen spends an inordinate amount of effort attempting to defuse Gentile's credibility. Gentile's Berkeley education draws a spasm of skepticism, getting termed "an unusual military recruiting ground." The report allows Petraeus' spokesperson, Colonel Steve Boylan, to serve as a disputant to the substance of Gentile's argument, saying, "he hasn't been in Iraq for a while, and when you're not on the ground your views can quickly get dated." And the entire article begins with a paragraph that presumes that Democratic praise for Petraeus is a foregone conclusion:

When Gen. David Petraeus testifies before Congress on Tuesday, lawmakers from both parties will praise him for reducing violence in Iraq. President Bush will try to use his popularity to bolster support for the war.

But the most extraordinary part of the story is this:

It's hard to quantify how many people stand in Col. Gentile's corner; his view is certainly a minority one. But increasingly, the Pentagon's top brass are talking in similar terms. Two of the five members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have warned recently that the military's ability to fight another kind of conflict -- say a war with North Korea -- has eroded.

Hard to quantify? As a service to Wall Street Journal readers, we'll point out that "two of the five members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff" may be quantified as "forty percent."