Copyright 2012 John T. Reed
At Petraeus’s retirement ceremony, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said,
You now stand among the giants not just in our time but of all time, joning the likes of Grant and Pershing and Marshall and Eisenhower as one of the great battle captains of American History.
Talk about grading on the curve!
And that phrase “not just in our time” explicitly denies that he was graded on the curve.
Admiral Mullen protesteth too much that he is not grading on the curve.
Petraeus is a nice boy who is good at making a nice impresson on big shots and many media and on the public. The ideal job as far as optimally using his talents is probably White House spokesperson—Jay Carney’s current job—or at least it was before he created the distraction of telling the wrold that he was having sex with Mrs. Lieutenant Colonel Paula Broadwell under his CIA desk.
But in this article, I want to evaluate Petraeus as if the Broadwell affair never happened. Here, I am reacting to the notion that we should have overlooked the affair because he is such a supercalifragilistic, once-in-a-lifetime, competent general and CIA Director that is is a tragedy for the nation that we have lost his services.
Big picture: David Petraeus never participated in a war in any sense beyond what Major League Baseball players call a “cup of coffee.” Some professional baseball players spend their entire careers in the minors except for being called up to the Majors briefly in September when the roster size is expanded. Such a brief call-up to the Majors is referred to as a “cup of coffee.” David Petraeus had a cup of coffee, and no more, when it comes to being a “battle captain.”
David Petraeus graduated from West Point in 1974, a year or so after the Vietnam War ended for America. I graduated from West Point in 1968 and did a tour in Vietam in 1969 and 1970. That was a real war. It lasted about 10 years.
After Petraeus graduated, U.S. military actions were [Petraus’s involvement in red]:
1983 invasion of Grenada
1982 Marines in Lebanon, withdrawn after suicide bomber killed hundred of U.S. Marines in barracks
1989 invasion of Panama
1990 Desert Storm
1992 military operation to deliver food to Somilia hungry culminating in Blackhawk Down
1993 Bosnia peace keeping
1994 Haiti peace keeping [staff officer]
2001 invasion of Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) resulting in fall of Taliban government
2003 invasion of Iraq (Opertion Iraqi Freedom) culminating in fall of Sadam Hussein government [commanded 101st Airborne Division during invasion—his first combat experience—elapsed time from start on March 20, 2003 to “Mission Accomplished” speech by Bush on May 1st, 2003: 42 days]
Since 2001 occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq [commanded 101st Airborne Division, Multi-National Security Transition Command Iraq, Multinational Force Iraq, U.S. Central Command, International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan]
Do you see a war in there? Not an event a politician called a war, a real war like those the guys cited by Admiral Mullen fought in?
General Grant was the victorious commander of the Union Army in the Civil War which lasted 4 years and had 625,000 KIA
General Pershing was the U.S. commander in World War I, his main claims to fame was he looked the part of a general, his proiminent position in that war and his refusal to let American units be broken up and used as replacements in other countries’s armies; he was barely mentioned in our study of military history at West Point
General Marshall was the chief of staff of the victorious U.S. Army in World war II, which lasted 3 3/4 years and resulted in 24 million military KIA; He was later Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense.
General Eisenhower was the victorious Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe in World War II, which lasted 3 1/2 years and resulted in hundreds of thousands of U.S. military KIA; He was later a two-term president of the United States.
So explain to me how Petraeus belongs in the same paragraph with those guys? Petraeus’s claim to fame is as the head of an occupation force, a job Eisenhower held from May 8, 1945 to November 10, 1945 and probably did not even include in his resume. Petraeus’s World War II counterparts were the longer-tenured occupation heads General McNarney and General Clay, whose names few Americans would recognize.
Over 5,000 American military have been killed in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and there is a possibility that when all is said and done, we will have gained no net benefit as a result of the occupations. The original idea was to avenge the deaths of approximately 3,000 people killed on 9/11. Getting another 5,000 killed with maybe no net benefit to the U.S. when the occupations are all over is hardly a cause for celebration or evidence of great leadership.
As CIA director, Petraeus seems to have been a failure. See the Wall Street Journal story of 11/14/2012. It basically said Petraeus was some old military fuddy duddy dog who could not learn the new trick of being head of a civilian organization after 37 years of being saluted and having his ass kissed by military subordinates.
Those of you who think Petraeus was great at anything other than courting the media need to come up with some hard evidence. The fact is, Petreaus never had a chance to match up with Grant, Pershing, Marshll or Eisenhower because no such wars occurred during his time in the military. If he did have such a chance, I see little evidence he would have matched their acomplishments. The best that can actually be said about Petraeus is that he seems to have been an above-average occupation commander when commpared to a rather mediocre bunch that includes such non-giants an Tommy Franks, Ray Odierno, Stanley McChrystal, Ricardo Sanchez, George Casey, David McKiernan, and Lloyd Austin.
If you really look at Petraeus’s bio, it is extremely heavy on being a good student which was part of his image-building with the similarly studious media. He graduated 43rd in his class of 833 from West Point, 1st in his Army Command and General Staff College—which he later commanded, got a Masters in Public Administration and a PhD in international relations from Princeton, was professor of international relations at West Point, and did a fellowship at Georgetown University. He co-authored, got many media kudos for, then ignored, but did not recall, Field Manual 3-24 Counterinsurgency which I dismissed as unreadable.
Notwithstanding his academic credentials in international relations, Petraeus was really all about public relations, and even that he ultimately blew big time. He was also all about inside-the-government national security politics and ditto.
Here is a reader link to two articles about the overhyping of Generals McChrystal and Petraeus.
John T. Reed
I appreciate informed, well-thought-out constructive criticism and suggestions.
Link to information about John T. Reed’s Succeeding book which, in part, relates lessons learned about succeeding in life from being in the military