Profile of a Leader: General Petraeus

When his father died in 2008, General David Petraeus did not return to the United States to bury his father, Sixtus. “Our soldiers make the all the same sacrifices” said Petraeus. At the time, Petraeus was on duty in Iraq serving as the Commanding General of the Multi-National Force.

When then-President George W. Bush implemented the surge strategy for Iraq in 2007, Petraeus was promoted to General to oversee the operation. General Petraeus took over a country that was falling into sectarian violence and on the verge of civil war. It was his job to contain the insurgency and stabilize Iraq for political progress to be made.

Approaching this new mission required a new strategy for the operations in Iraq. At Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Petraeus would formulate the Army Field Manual 3-24 or what is now known as “The Petraeus Doctrine”. This new doctrine changed the strategy from just killing terrorists to an emphasis on protecting and winning over the civilian population. It called to protect the civilian population even at the risk of further military casualties.

What Petraeus labeled the “Anaconda Strategy”, Petraeus sought to defeat the insurgency through military force, intelligence, politics, development and media. Petraeus developed a few mantras that summarize the new strategy. It states “the Iraqi people are the decisive terrain”. Another aspect of the new strategy says, “You can’t commute to this fight”. This meant that American forces must live amongst the people in order to protect them. “We cannot kill our way out of this endeavor” is another mantra meaning that force alone will not win. Quoting Seneca the Younger, Petraeus preached that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”. This encourages the troops to stay prepared so that they will be ready to succeed when opportunity hits.

In his 19 months presiding as Multi-National Force Iraq (MNF-I), Petraeus’ strategy has been notably successful. Violence in Iraq declined 80% coming from 180 deaths a day to 25. Sunni tribes have abandoned the insurgency and joined pro-government forces culminating in the Anbar Awakening in June 2007. Also, the Shia’s biggest militia, the Mahdi Army, agreed to a ceasefire.

Because of the success, troop reductions are now occurring in Iraq. Iraqi police and military forces are capable of securing the region on their own. However, Petraeus refuses to declare victory in Iraq. He maintains that the progress in Iraq is not irreversible.

Born on November 7, 1952 to Sixtus and Miriam Petraeus; his father, Sixtus, immigrated to America from the Netherlands at the outbreak of World War II. Sixtus settled in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York and raised his family. David grew up admiring military men. His soccer coach, math teacher and Sunday school teacher were all military veterans. In 1970, David graduated from Cornwall Central High School.

Petraeus attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, just five miles away from his hometown. While at West Point, Cadet Petraeus participated on the intercollegiate soccer and ski teams. He was recognized as a “distinguished cadet”, was appointed cadet captain on the brigade staff, and graduated in the top 5% of his class, 43rd overall, in 1974.

He met his wife, Holly Knowlton, daughter of Army General William Knowlton while at West Point. His college friends cite his courtship of the general’s daughter as an example of Petreaus’ ambitiousness. The couple has two grown children, Anne and Stephen.

When U.S. forces invaded Iraq in March 2003, Major General Petraeus deployed as Commander of the 101st Airborne Division also known as the “Screaming Eagles”; this was his first time in battle. In this role, Petraeus was in charge of 7,000 infantry soldiers and 250 helicopters, amongst other things. More than just a military leader, Petraeus was a political leader in northern Iraq. He had ordered for economic trade to be restored with Mosul and Syria. Fees were implemented on cross-border traffic raising revenue for the local government.

He liberated two of the holiest cities in Shia Islam, one of them Mosul. He used Army discretionary funds on public work projects because of his theory that “money is ammunition”. Under Petraeus, the 101st Airborne established an Iraqi governing council in Mosul. To discourage revenge killings from the local populace, Petraeus paid out reparations to families who lost a relative and gave compensation for damaged property. Petraeus embraced the duty of nation-building in Iraq, a concept he learned from his studies in international relations, and would implement this same strategy to the entire country of Iraq when he was promoted.

While in Mosul, Petraeus described as the toughest moment in his career. A helicopter had crashed killing 17 of his men. Petraeus had to comb through the wreckage to recover the bodies.

Last October, General Petraeus was appointed the head of Central Command putting him in charge of all U.S. military operations in the Middle East. Petraeus acknowledges that what worked in Iraq might not be able to transfer to Afghanistan. While violence has decreased in Iraq, it has increased in Afghanistan. The situation with the Afghanistan-Pakistan border complicates things. General Petraeus worked with Pakistan’s top military brass on an aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean to outline a plan for Afghanistan. So far, 17,000 U.S. troops have been added to Afghanistan and U.S. forces are training the Afghanistan army so that they will soon be able to secure the country on their own.

Affectionately nicknamed “P4”, “P” for Petraeus and “4” meaning Four Star General, by soldiers or “King David” by Iraqi’s, General Petraeus is a rock star in the region. He always gets calls and e-mails asking for photographs and autographs. He makes personal connections with his soldiers, often randomly checking on them and during conversation asking where they’re from, if they’re married and how many kids they have. Petraeus will ask what the soldier has learned during his tour in Iraq and before he leaves he’ll thank them and their wives for their service.

Compared to the sacrifices American soldiers have made throughout the over two hundred years of America’s existence, Petraeus seems to understand that missing his father’s funeral pales in comparison – though extremely difficult nonetheless. The harsh reality of war is that brave men and women are paying the ultimate sacrifice with their life everyday. With his leadership, Petraeus is doing the best he can to minimize the casualties of war. His strategy for victory in the Middle East will preserve American lives, the American way of life, and peace on earth.

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