David Petraeus

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David H. Petraeus is a general in the United States Army, now commanding the International Security Assistance Force and United States Forces-Afghanistan, technically subordinate but even more politically critical to his prior command of United States Central Command (CENTCOM). His immediate prior assignment was commanding Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I). In the military, he is considered one of the leading analysts on insurgency, counterinsurgency, and national strategy; his doctoral dissertation dealt with the post-Vietnam War exercise of military force,[1] and he was a major contributor to the main U.S. Army doctrinal manual on counterinsurgency.

He is personally intense, but has attracted very talented advisers — and seeks other opinions. Sadi Othman, a naturalized American who was assigned as his translator when he was a division commander, grew close, and is now both a senior adviser and his personal representative to Arab societies.

Petraeus has been mentioned as a Presidential candidate in 2012, but has not suggested he has any interest.


Central Command

When he left CENTCOM for Aghanistan, Marine General James Mattis became his successor; he and Mattis have collaborated on counterinsurgency doctrine.

He replaced Admiral William Fallon, who resigned as CENTCOM commander in March 2008. While there are many accounts of Fallon's resignation, it is widely regarded as a protest over the Administration policy. In particular, Fallon had been rather public in opposing Administration threats, especially from Vice President Dick Cheney, to attack or invade Iran.

Relations between Fallon and Petraeus are also controversial. In interviews with CNN, Petraeus agreed there had been friction, but it had improved. Petraeus had stressed his opinion that Iran had been interfering in Iraq, and he and Fallon had different perspectives: "There can be understandable differences of your take, if you will, on a situation. As they say in politics and government 101, where you stand on an issue sometimes depends on where you sit in the organization, and we sit in different chairs." [2]

Some reports indicated that Fallon despised Petraeus as pushing the Bush agenda for reasons of personal ambition, while other accounts suggest that Petraeus had, on accepting the Iraq command, focused on what would be most effective in a bad situation. Arguments for the latter position cast the Fallon-Petraeus conflict as one between one concerned for the region as a whole, and one focused only on operations in Iraq proper. In the U.S. military culture, many senior officers have accepted assignments to execute civilian policies with which they personally disagreed, but felt it was their obligation to accept the assignment and carry it out in the best way possible. GEN Harold Johnson, for example, who was Chief of Staff of the Army during the Vietnam War, was quoted as having, as his deepest regret, not having resigned in protest. At the time, Johnson thought he would have more control over unwise policies if he kept his post.

There was apparently sufficient friction that the Department of Defense did not have Fallon appear with Petraeus when the latter, along with civilian officials, testified about the surge drawdown.[3]

Iraq command

Petraeus, while executing policies established by the George W. Bush Administration, suggested to Congress, during his confirmation hearings for the Iraq command, that he would be open with them. He is one of the architects of what has been the "surge" strategy in Iraq. In September 2007, he testified that he believed the surge was complete and force levels could return to prior levels. [4]

In that role, Petraeus formed a "brain trust" of highly respected analysts, several of whom, such as David Kilcullen and H.R. McMaster, are known for open criticism of policies, even while advising. [5]

Doctrinal development and counterinsurgency assignments

Prior to his tour as MNF-I Commander, he commanded the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, directing of a number of Army research and education activities, including the Command and General Staff College and the School of Advanced Military Studies. In that assignment, he had an unusual amount of direct involvement for a senior officer in actually writing the new U.S. Army doctrinal manual on counterinsurgency. [6]

His tour at the CAC followed two major training commands in Iraq, initially of the NATO Training Mission, and then becoming the first head of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq. Before those assignments, he commanded the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) in combat operations in Iraq. Before taking the Iraq assignment, he served in general staff assignments on U.S. and NATO forces in Bosnia.

Early career

Earlier in his career, he commanded a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division, a battalion of the 101st, and a variety of staff assignments as well as an assistant to four-star commanders.

Earlier professional education, following his graduation from West Point in the class of 1974, top graduate of the CGSC class of 1983, and MPA and PhD (1987) degrees from Princeton. He also had a fellowship at Georgetown University and taught international relations at West Point.


  1. The American Military and the Lessons of Vietnam: A study of military influence and the use of force in the post-Vietnam era, doctoral dissertation, Princeton University, 1987
  2. "Petraeus picked to lead Central Command", Cable News Network, April 23, 2008
  3. "Pentagon Rules Out Fallon Testimony", Associated Press, March 22, 2008
  4. Petraeus, David H. (10-11 September 2007), Report to Congress on the Situation in Iraq
  5. Ricks, Thomas E. (February 5, 2007), "Officers With PhDs Advising War Effort", Washington Post
  6. John Nagl, David Petraeus, James Amos, Sarah Sewall (December 2006), Field Manual 3-24: Counterinsurgency, US Department of the Army
Commanding general, Multi-National Force Iraq
preceded by
George Casey
succeeded by