He salvaged two disastrous wars, for two very different presidents.
In a sense, this is true — Patraeus’s reputation “salvaged” these two disastrous wars…politically. There more relevant question is whether he “salvaged” them in the sense of making them less disastrous. As far as I can tell, he didn’t.
Let’s review Petraeus’ recent record: the surge in Iraq, which failed in most of its stated goals; the surge in Afghanistan, which also looks to have failed; and turning the CIA into a paramilitary organization which has assassinated American citizens (even a child) with no due process.
To be clear, the responsibility for these decisions rests with Bush and Obama. But Petraeus’s reputation certainly the enabled the continuation of two awful wars long after it was clear that the colossal waste of lives and resources was not accomplishing anything that could justify the immense costs.
Also worth considering is this, from spackerman’s candid account of the Petraeus cult:
But by the time President Obama tapped Petraeus to run the Afghanistan war in 2010, something had changed. Petraeus’ mouth was saying “counterinsurgency,” with its focus on protecting civilians from violence, but in practice, he was far more reliant on air strikes and commando raids. He was even touting enemy body counts as measurements of success, which was completely antithetical to counterinsurgency doctrine, and his staff’s insistance that nothing had changed sounded hollow.
But then there was Broadwell to spin the shift away. On Ricks’ blog, she described the complete flattening of a southern Afghan village called Tarok Kolache, confidently asserting that not only was no one killed under 25 tons of U.S. air and artillery strikes, but that the locals appreciated it. Danger Room’s follow-up reporting found that the strikes were even more intense: two other villages that the Taliban had riddled with bombs, were destroyed as well. But Broadwell, who was traveling around Afghanistan and working on a biography of Petraeus, didn’t grapple with the implications of Petraeus shifting away from counterinsurgency, let alone the fortunes of the Afghanistan war.
Particularly as the war dragged on, the “counterinsurgency” hype that justified the continuation of the wars seems to have become increasingly fraudulent. And yet the coverage of Petraeus by most of the mainstream American media was indistinguishable from the coverage offered by someone who was literally having sex with him. This seems…problematic.