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What ‘mattered most’ in Iraq War? It wasn’t a show of force, Petraeus says at USM

Retired Gen. David Petraeus speaks to the media before his 2017 Lt. Col. John H. Dale Distinguished Lecture Series at Southern Miss' Ogletree Alumni House on Tuesday.
Retired Gen. David Petraeus speaks to the media before his 2017 Lt. Col. John H. Dale Distinguished Lecture Series at Southern Miss' Ogletree Alumni House on Tuesday. Hattiesburg American

Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus said ongoing conflict in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa is generational and will take a long time to solve, and that the techniques used in past efforts are not the same ones that will work today.

“You have to have a sustained commitment, which means it has to be sustainable,” he said. “The paradox of this particular fight is you cannot counter terrorists like Islamic State or al Qaida with just counter terrorist force operations.

“It requires a comprehensive, simple military campaign. The breakthrough in recent years is we have been able to advise, enable and assist others to do this on the front lines.”

Petraeus was in Hattiesburg on Tuesday to deliver the Lt. Col. John H. Dale Distinguished Lecture in International Security and Global Policy.

He addressed the media at the University of Southern Mississippi before the lecture, which was open to the public, at the Saenger Theater downtown.

In the decade that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Petraeus commanded U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the greater Middle East and Central Asia.

Petraeus served as a combat commander at the same time as Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, a Southern Miss alum.

“It was quite an extraordinary period,” he said. “(Blount) had trained his organization superbly. They were really schooled well in how to fight ... for that desert.

“What they did on the ground was extraordinary.”

After his retirement from the Army, Petraeus served as director of the CIA from 2011 to 2012.

Petraeus is a partner in a global investment firm and chairman of the firm’s Global Institute. He remains engaged in U.S. foreign policy and international security issues as a visiting professor at several universities and a frequent media contributor on security topics.

He talked about the latter days of his command in the Middle East when U.S. forces were preparing to hand Iraq back to its people.

“As we look back at the surge in Iraq, the surge that mattered most was not the surge of forces. It was not the 25,000 additional American soldiers, airmen and Marines,” he said. “The surge that mattered most was the surge of ideas.

“It was a change of 180 degrees in many respects of what we’d been doing before.”

Petraeus said President Donald Trump’s foreign policy has more continuity than change.

“This will provoke a bit of thought,” he said. “In many respects it’s a continuation in some cases with some impertinence over what has been done in the past, albeit with different rhetoric and different messaging than has been traditional in the past.”

Susannah Ural, co-director of the Dale Center for the Study of War and Society at Southern Miss, said learning about war is important to possibly minimizing the number of wars being fought and find better solutions to war.

“War has been with us forever and unfortunately always will be,” she said. “Military historians don’t love war, just like oncologists don’t love cancer.”

Petraeus is one of a few distinguished speakers in the series. Past speakers include former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

For more information about the Dale Center, visit