Max Boot: Petraeus ... A Necessary Man





Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a contributing editor to Opinion, and author of Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present.

'The graveyards are full of indispensable men," it's often said, meaning that few are genuinely indispensable. David H. Petraeus was one of the few, which is why his loss for the U.S. government, after his admission of adultery, is so tragic.

This is not to imply that there are not other capable generals or intelligence leaders. But Petraeus was highly unusual, perhaps unique, for the grasp he displayed of modern warfare in all of its bewildering complexity. This was a task for which he had been preparing since his days as a West Point cadet in the 1970s, when he showed an early fascination with the Vietnam War, which was just then ending. He avidly read the classic works of Bernard Fall, Jean Larteguy, David Halberstam and other experts on the subject. He wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the war, a decidedly unfashionable focus in the 1980s, when the U.S. military was eager to get out of the counterinsurgency business altogether.

Petraeus knew, however, that warfare had changed: Conventional engagements against mirror-image adversaries would not be the post-Vietnam norm. He got the chance to show that he could put his academic understanding into practice when he entered Iraq as the commander of the 101st Airborne Division in the spring of 2003, his first combat experience...




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