Why Petraeus will be missed
November 13th, 2012
10:54 AM ET

Why Petraeus will be missed

By Fareed Zakaria

I’m not going to second-guess General Petraeus’ decision to resign, nor President’s Obama’s decision to accept his resignation. But it’s a real loss for the administration and the country. Petraeus was a rare general in that he was genuinely reflective – able to think broadly and strategically – while also able to implement big ideas well.

But perhaps most important, Petraeus was able to defy conventional wisdom – even the conventional wisdom of his superiors. Remember, the military is a very hierarchical organization, and there are many incentives to conform and to reaffirm existing orthodoxy. A premium is placed on saluting and executing orders well.

Petraeus was in Iraq right after the invasion, where he was a two star general in charge of a large part of northern Iraq. Headquartered in Mosul, he began to believe that the way we were handling the occupation was wrong, and he started to try to implement a different policy and speak out quietly within the top brass about the possibility of a different approach.

This shift was not received all that warmly in some quarters, and then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in particular seems to have disagreed with this new approach, notably failing to promote Petraeus. In fact, he sent him off to head the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

While there, Petraeus used this platform to formulate a new doctrine of counterinsurgency. I am not as blown away by this doctrine as many people have been. It has some advantages, especially over the crazy way the occupation was handled initially in Iraq. However, it is also a very expensive, open ended commitment to nation building that is extremely difficult for any outside force to sustain. Even when adequately resourced, this approach can still have the problem of feeling like an imperialist mission.

More from CNN: Scandal extends to top Afghan commander

The Iraqi counter insurgency strategy largely succeeded where the Afghanistan one didn’t, so it’s not a silver bullet. In Iraq, you have Sunni tribes who decided that they were going to make their peace with the government in Baghdad, a process that Petraeus greatly facilitated. Without that political dynamic, counterinsurgency has not worked in Afghanistan. Still, Petraeus deserves enormous credit for creative thought and action. He was willing to think outside the box and develop his ideas before implementing them.

The great problem of government is the difficulty of breaking free of the bureaucratic mindset, something Petraeus was able to do in a dramatic way, while working in the largest bureaucracy in the world, namely the U.S. Pentagon.

His tenure at the CIA was too short for us to be sure whether he was able to bring some of those extraordinary qualities to bear on the agency, although one would imagine he would be able to succeed there as he has succeeded everywhere else in his life.

But we’ll never know – he will very likely enter the private sector, give speeches, engage in consultancy work and make millions of dollars. Meanwhile, the United States will be deprived of an extraordinary public servant. I’m not sure that the national interest is being served by this, but that’s the way the system works.

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Topics: Military

soundoff (205 Responses)
  1. lladavnoj

    Look im ex military and for all that aint the military has a code of honor and for a 4 star general to not live by it reflects the influence on are soldiers that are required to uphold this standard how he didnt lose a star or be acountable for these actions only barack hussien obama and his regime knows what he has on them but know this a regular active soldier would have been demoted,loss of pay,extra duty or possibly kicked out this country that put a muslim in office that not only never served his military was born in kenya cause aint know true american would have aloud are ambasador to be murdered and are great flag burned and yet still not take responsibility for it happening and blame it on a video god help us cause hes all americas got left

    November 14, 2012 at 8:47 am | Reply
  2. n8r0n

    Fareed is such a mindless Centrist.

    Good riddance, Patraeus.

    You can go down as one of the world's most overrated military leaders of all time. Armed with the most well-funded, well-equipped army in the history of the world, you couldn't win a war in the poorest country on earth.

    When are Americans going to wake up, and demand that we leave all these 3rd-world hellholes?

    November 14, 2012 at 9:14 am | Reply
    • Kat

      Because if Buffy the Vampire Slayer has taught us anything, it is that hellholes have a way of turning the whole world to hell.

      November 14, 2012 at 10:10 am | Reply
  3. ricardo1968

    Petraeus was probably the only general in history to be asked to win a war while killing as few of the enemy as possible. Iraq would have been over in days if he were allowed to carpet-bomb cities like Eisenhower was allowed to do. He absolutely saved our bacon in Iraq by recognizing that counterinsurgency was basically a problem of governance, which unfortunately the armed forces were not prepared for in any way. Iraq now has a shot at healing the societal wounds of dictatorship. Now that Saddam is long dead, it's too easy to dismiss the threat he posed.

    November 14, 2012 at 9:22 am | Reply
  4. Mr Foobar2u

    Wow.. what a crappy article.

    A) Unfortunately, this isn't a republican or democratic conspiracy
    B) Benghazi was a bunch of bureaucrats and bean counters screwing up.. no conspiracy there (unfortunate that people had to die.. but then again, look at the 3000 that died in this country because of bureaucrats)

    Petreaus and the media crafted his image. He used you guys and you bought it, and now you're crying over the image, because when it comes down to it, he was a guy who couldn't keep it in his pants (like the rest of us) and the two women are nut jobs..while their husbands are saps. (it's really that simple)

    November 14, 2012 at 9:35 am | Reply
    • Sandy

      It's not an obsession. People in certain positions are held accountable at a higher level. Integrity? Ha ha, Petraeus wan't even going to resign until he was asked to! How exactly did he hold himself acccountable?

      November 14, 2012 at 9:50 am | Reply
  5. Richard

    We all remember Joe Paterno's accomplishments, right? Same with this bugger.

    November 14, 2012 at 9:35 am | Reply
  6. BrotherMan

    I find this article completely laughable. He could break free of convention, because he is a repubelicon with absolutely no morals. Just a warmonger. Fade away losers. Society, believe it or not has wised up to your pathetic, greedy ways... Go take a look at the photo of the incoming congress... You teabagger, GOP'ers just get whiter and whiter and less and less... And I am a white man, 40 years old, and I get it... So long little Dave. You aren't a general to me anymore... LOSER!

    November 14, 2012 at 9:48 am | Reply
  7. jimmy

    of course petraeus will be missed. he is one of the greatest generals ever. he helped conquer both iraq and afghanistan, two of the world's most powerful nations, in a matter of days, with no lingering insurgencies. the rest of the world totally respects us now. he did this without wasting hundred of billions of dollars a year. and he ensured maximum discipline of our fiorces...no abu ghraibs, no bales massacres, no urinating on the qu'ran, no bombing of civilians. how the hell are we supposed to get bogged down in another war with iran without people like david petraeus?

    November 14, 2012 at 9:50 am | Reply
    • BrotherMan

      Completely agree. I live in Tampa. While this character was frolicking around on Bayshore Blvd at the Gasparilla parade, our guys were taking IED hits in Iraq. Billions of dollars were disappearing and our brave general was at a big drunken party with pirate beads around his neck, in a million dollar bayside villa... Goodness, what will we do without him? Personally, I think the FBI should look at his banking habits and assets as well... overseas...

      November 14, 2012 at 10:00 am | Reply
    • Kat

      If there is something you can always count on when it comes to bureaucrats and politicians is that they are all easily replaced by others who share their views, who followed them from the big breaks in their careers, and are in the now. In short, the government cares very little for the individual, and when the individual starts to remind others of this with scandals, conditions, and the like, it puts the populace out of their comfort zone. Who wants a bureaucrat with two mistresses? I do not know the answer, but it is a very good way to get people and the press talking, investigating, and of course spreading rumors so sensitive that the public accepts them as truth.
      Petraeus is better off then before, so let us welcome is successor with admiration regardless of who they are.

      November 14, 2012 at 10:02 am | Reply
  8. Nick

    CNN, really? Still letting a plagiarist work? Fareed has no credibility for me, nor for people caring about integrity.. Shame on you

    November 14, 2012 at 11:29 am | Reply
  9. Adams

    I want to know how many careers he ruined for adultry? How many officers / NCOs did throw under a buss for doing this? I do not know how he can sleep at night.

    November 14, 2012 at 11:37 am | Reply
  10. zip

    poor fareed. its hard to take you seriously after your problem surfaced. i actually like the way you explain some things.

    November 14, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Reply
  11. rudy espinoza

    TOUGH TIMES FOR US GOV'T WORKERS LIVING ABROAD, WITH A PRESIDENT THAT WILL STAY SILENT AND WATCHED AS THEY WERE BEING KILLED WHEN OUR HEROES WERE BEING KILLED, FOR SOME FOUR HOURS. EVEN WORSE WHEN HE WILLINGLY DROPS HIS TOP GENERAL IN THE BOILING GREASE OVER THE OLD SIN OF ADULTERY, SURELY RAMPANT ALL OVER INSIDE AND OUTSIDE THE GOV'T. ALL IN ORDER TO SWITCH THE ATTENTION OF THE HORRIBLE MISTAKE OF LOOSING AN EMBASSADOR TO SOME CROONIES. "WRONG GUY AT THE TOP." THE ADMINISTRATION HAS MADE A JOKE OF THE PRESIDENCY WITH SO MUCH RIDICULOUSITY, AND SO MUCH FOOLISH SPENDING ON PARTIES AT EVERY LEVEL, NOT EVEN INCLUDING THE MILLIONS GIFTS TO EACH OTHER IN THE LOANED AMERICAN FUNDS GIVEN TO THE FILTHY RICH BAD MANAGERS OF THE INSURANCE AND MOTGAGE COMPANIES. AS FAR AS I AM CONCERNED MR. PETRAUS STILL HAS MY FULL RESPECT, AS HE GOT PRESIDENT OBAMA OUT OF SO MANY OTHER MISTAKES DURING THE WAR.

    November 14, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Reply
  12. Ben

    It cracks me up that left-leaning Zakaria is portraying Petraeus in a positive light....I remember the left calling him "Betrayus" during the Bush years....how funny...

    November 14, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Reply
  13. Read Times

    Eric Holder was too busy finding ways to indict Zimmerman than informing Obama of Petreus situation.

    November 14, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  14. Jim

    Because he bent to the liberals?

    November 14, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Reply
  15. Biz

    Maybe Zak will miss him but I bet his wife won't.

    November 14, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Reply
  16. Fred Phred

    Of course he broke the mindset.

    He was a republican who likes WOMEN!

    November 14, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Reply
  17. advocatusdiaboli

    Liberals have been loud with their being appalled at the GOP protecting it's wayward sons yet here they are doing the very same. Liberal hypocrisy knows no bounds. More proof the two parties are little different when it comes to money and power and exclusion of most of us.

    November 14, 2012 at 6:08 pm | Reply
  18. John Steel

    Zakaria doubtless would have penned a tribute to Chamberlain in 1939. Petreaus has revealed himself as a man of low moral character – and a damned fool. He was never anything more than a pencil pusher – a career soldier who somehow managed to avoid combat as a junior officer. His command in Iraq amounted to squashing a fly with a sledgehammer.

    November 14, 2012 at 11:05 pm | Reply
  19. Mike

    As unusual as it may be, in this case I will have to agree quite vigorously with the writer from CNN. Gen. Petraeus was a highly qualified individual, who displayed much of the skill required to guide the US military through some difficult times. It is very disturbing to me that so many of the best military leaders that the US has recently had, have been upended by politicians and civilians who now deem themselves as qualified to guide the armed forces. To say that any military figure had clashed with civilian arm-chair generals such as Donald Rumsfeld, could hardly be considered as a blemish to a professional resume.

    November 14, 2012 at 11:41 pm | Reply
  20. rightospeak

    Other articles , to manipulate the public opinion, do not allow comments unless it is facebook or some other media that I do not want to use. DISQUS removed too many of my comments, so I do not want to use it -they censor the most.
    This article gives Gen. Pertreaus a very nice complement and I snicerely hope that it is the case-that he is our hero . On the other hand, since we get sooo many lies, particularly about our wars that another scenario is possible. My spin : just before the election the Bengazi incident is engineered to discredit Obama , to support Mitt. Who was in charge there ? -CIA, the general. Why were our people not protected ? Ah, that is the mystery. The viscious attack on Obama about Bengazi by Gulliani sounded desperate. McCain is attacking Obama now-were they behind the Bengazi action ? If so, Obama has no choice but to can General Petreus and others for Bengazi and ill advice on Afganistan where we just wasted more people and treasury since Obama took office. He should have made immediate plans for withdrawal to save men and money.If people were working to make Obama look bad, he told them to go and they invented the stories to look like just idiots, not evil men that they possibly were. This makes a lot more sense that the official story-more credible. I still hope that this article is right.

    November 15, 2012 at 9:38 am | Reply
  21. idiophobia

    i find it funny that he gets punished cause he did one stupid thing, everyone has done at least one stupid thing in their lives so why is he being punished for it? if their were perfect people in this world (which there is not) then i would understand why but i guess that comes with a position of power.

    November 15, 2012 at 10:49 am | Reply
  22. Rick McDaniel

    There are plenty of people who can step into that role.

    November 21, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Reply
  23. idiot

    he is FK idiot , he is married and FK with a Jew journalist and he is CIA DIRECTOR he should be smarter than that
    never trust a woman, never trust journalist never trust an Arab or a Jew.....allllooooooooo and he broke all these points so he can get his dipstick wet stupid

    November 25, 2012 at 11:19 pm | Reply
  24. Keshoundra

    There's a lot more Muslims who react with violence to prttey much anything that challenges their faith than there are Christians who burn books. It's to the point where I hear someone on TV going on about how Islam is a religion of peace, and my immediate reaction is, Aw, hell. What'd they blow up this time? . I can't think of a single other religion who's followers react like that. Obviously, it's not all Muslims who do this, but it's them that has the problem, not the rest of the world. I mean, seriously? Rioting world-wide over cartoons? Hell, Marvell's been doing cartoons of a god I follow for thirty some-odd years. You don't see me or anyone else anyone calling for Stan Lee to be beheaded with a dull knife over how he portrays Thor

    December 29, 2012 at 2:18 am | Reply
  25. YaValioCacaWates

    The General and I have a lot in common. The only weakness we got some say is that we are crazy about women!

    April 23, 2013 at 7:54 pm | Reply
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