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The Master of Journalism Profiles the “Professor of War”

Morgen on April 1, 2010 at 11:22 pm

John linked this yesterday in our “Around the Web” section, but I wanted to call extra attention to Mark Bowden’s masterful profile of General Petraeus in the April issue of Vanity Fair. If there is a better writer-journalist than Bowden I cannot think of who it might be. Yes, his portrayal of Petraeus is on the whole very positive, but it is credibly so, based on the quality of research, insight, and fair-minded analysis typical of Bowden’s work. (And which so few others even bother attempting). Of course in Petraeus – now one of the most fascinating war heroes in American history – he has a subject worthy of his prodigious talents. (Unlike a certain other subject, perhaps.)

So, please, set aside 20-30 minutes when you have time and read Bowden’s story in full, or pick it up at your local magazine stand.

However, I cannot resist the urge to highlight one segment as a teaser. Bowden sets up his story by covering the attempted grilling of Petraeus by leading Democrats in 2007, at the first Senate hearing after the commencement of the “surge” strategy. Then senators Clinton, Obama, and Biden were especially eager to paint the surge as a dismal failure, since the imperative to withdraw from Iraq was a central platform of all of their presidential campaigns. Needless to say, this turned out to be an epic FAIL on all their part, but Bowden’s passage on Biden is especially choice:

Biden wouldn’t let go. He tried a different approach, one that showcased his boots-on-the-ground expertise. He recounted how, on a recent visit to Iraq, his helicopter had been grounded by a sandstorm outside Baghdad. He and the other dignitaries had waited three hours for the storm to subside. Biden asked, “If that sandstorm had kept up, would any of those guys have gotten in a vehicle and traveled back to Baghdad?” He smiled broadly for the cameras with a great show of sparkling white teeth. “Maybe I’m mistaken. Was there any possibility of that likely to happen?”

He was answered by Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, who had been working closely with Petraeus and was seated next to him at the witness table.

“Yes, sir,” said Crocker. “We tried to keep some of the commotion behind the scenes out of your view, but one of the alternatives we were actively working on was a road movement all the way back to Baghdad if we couldn’t get your helicopter out.”

“And that road movement would have been highly secured, would it not?” asked Biden.

“Well, for the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, yes, sir.”

You could almost hear the trap snap shut. Then came the laughter, which brought another smile to Biden’s face, this one sheepish. “Oh, I love you,” Biden said. “I love you.” Biden had drawn a different picture than he intended: the Washington Pooh-Bah visiting the combat zone for a photo op, no doubt creating a nuisance for the men working to secure his safety, impatiently waiting out a sandstorm, and now questioning the judgment of the general charged with protecting him. Who knew the situation better—the visiting pol or the general? And Petraeus hadn’t even spoken in his own defense.

Like I said, read the whole thing.

Category: Foreign Affairs |

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