Petraeus on Small Wars

August 26, 2013

General Petraeus’s full Chesney Medal acceptance speech has been published in the latest issue of the RUSI Journal.  A short version is online at the Royal United Service Institute’s web site, but it is well worth reading in its entirety.

In his speech the retired former Coalition and U.S. commander in both Iraq and Afghanistan draws upon his last decade of service and provides a nicely crafted perspective from his experience and beyond into the future.  It is a masterfully crafted talk and a thoughtful look backwards and forwards.  He defends “the surge” in Iraq, and calls it a “surge of ideas” more than force. In particular, I liked his strategic lesson learned about cost-benefit analysis before we go to war.

He is generous to our allies and the interagency, however, he makes little reference to the valor and sacrifice of the 6,000 plus warriors from the United States that died in Iraq and Afghanistan.  While I agree with his assessment about the benefits of the surge, he does not follow his own lesson and address its costs too.  I think the United States lost 800 KIA and 3,000 WIA in 2007 if memory serves me.

He gives a shout out to Emile Simpson (author of War from the Ground Up, see my review here at WOTR) on the importance of strategic narratives.

At the end he sums up nicely with the comment that the Small Wars of today are not going away, and that we don’t always get to choose our wars.


Frank Hoffman is a Contributing Editor to War on the Rocks, and serves as Senior Research Fellow in the Center for Strategic Research, at the National Defense University, Washington DC.  These insights and comments are his own.