David Petraeus For D.C. Metro Police Chief

Via Small Wars Journal, the Washington Times publishes an op-ed lavishing praise on the greatest Army officer of his generation for his farsightedness in demonstrating how a thorough security presence/posture combined with bolstered support for a host nation’s institutions of governance and rigorous subsidization of the tools for economic prosperity leads to a situation where a community comes “together to oppose and to confront the extremists.” Anyone who’s followed Petraeus (or, in some cases, jogged after him) will be familiar with this stuff.

And it’s true. But now it needs to be put to the greater test. Petraeus, or one of his disciples, needs to come to Washington D.C. — not to testify, but to lead the police force.

Over the past few weeks, my adopted city has fallen into some seriously dire circumstances. A 9-year old — think about that for a moment — was shot and killed on Columbia Road NW this weekend, about four blocks from my house, and only a few blocks further from where, further down Columbia, several old and new friends of mine were gathering for a party. To say this ought to provoke outrage is an understatement. Sam Youngman, who covers the White House for The Hill and lives nearby, sent out a moving and impassioned tweet about the non-leadership shown by Mayor Adrian Fenty: “I’ve never been partisan. I’ve always been a straight reporter. That ends with Fenty: Time to bring this guy down. No more murder next door.” The murder rate in D.C. is astronomical compared to the rest of the country, and has ticked upward since Fenty’s 2007 inaugural. The Left in LeDroit blog implores its fellow citizens: “We feel that we as a city have become too used to this savagery, which is actually abnormal.”

Yes, but we need security to be re-established before more stable patterns of civic behavior can re-emerge. Luckily, we have had a movement in defense circles arise that has learned these lessons at wartime: there is no real security that ignores the “root causes” that allow crime to fester; there can be no real security that doesn’t enlist the population as an active partner; and so expensive jobs programs and other forms of productive enterprise have to flood into areas cleared of criminals. Oh, and make sure your incarceration programs are heavily geared toward rehabilitation.  There’s even a manual that spells all this out.

For years — decades, even — a strain of highly-politicized urban-policy thinking has sneered at any proposal that even approaches dealing with “root causes,” calling that an excuse for pathological behavior. Well, if you believe Petraeus’ population-centric counterinsurgency approach in Iraq led to valuable security gains, you have no excuse to continue believing that. The “soldiers aren’t cops” argument isn’t going to fly here. I’ve attended a seminar at the Army/Marine Corps COIN Center at Ft. Leavenworth in which a talented Army lieutenant colonel explicitly instructed his fellow officers to view neighborhood security as if they were running Kansas City police patrols. The counterinsurgents understand that thinking like an occupying army without asking why neighborhoods give in to insecurity is a blueprint for accelerated destabilization. In urban-policy circles this is considered, for some bewildering reason, unacceptably left-wing. In the Army and Marine Corps, it’s becoming received wisdom.

My friend Ezra thinks that Bill Bratton needs to come to D.C. to reinvigorate the police. I was a Brooklyn teenager during Bratton’s term as NYPD police commissioner and will never say an unkind word about the man. But let’s aim higher.  That CENTCOM gig won’t last forever. We need David Petraeus to change uniforms.

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman