Sunday, June 27, 2010

Bad News for a Good Soldier

While Barack Obama was doing his Donald Trump act telling Stanley McChrystal "You're fired!" on TV, the winner of this season's Afghanistan Apprentice show was at the President's side solemn and expressionless.

For Gen. David Petraeus, who had fainted earlier this month while testifying before the Senate, this new assignment comes as the 21st century definition of a good soldier saluting and doing his duty in the face of a personally devastating order.

To start, the 57-year-old general is leaving a comfortable office job in Florida to take a step down in the hierarchy to command a military/political mess that will put him under 24/7 pressure. This return to the line of fire comes less than a year after being diagnosed with prostate cancer and undergoing radiation treatment for it.

"The challenges of Afghanistan," notes Chris Cillizza in the Washington Post, "mean that Petraeus is risking the reputation he earned in Iraq as one of the greatest generals of his generation for what is, at best, a jump ball. The move feels even more dicey considering Petraeus's alternative: polishing his legacy at Centcom on the way to the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"Finally, Petraeus has been regarded in some GOP circles as the best (only?) candidate with a chance of beating Obama in 2012. While that has always been a long shot, it now seems like a no-shot."

Finally, and most crucial, the General is under pressure to appear to be implementing a policy that has been losing public favor and political support while at the same time managing Karzai in Kabul with the same iron fist in a velvet glove that he used on al-Maliki in Baghdad.

At the coming Senate hearings, Petraeus will have to show deference to his Commander-in-Chief and cope with GOP grandstanding about the dangers of Obama's 2011 deadline to start winding down America's longest war ever. His tap-dancing skills will be put to their severest test.

When David Howell Petraeus was graduating with honors from West Point in 1974 as the Vietnam War was becoming history, could he have imagined ending his career in an atmosphere where generals are being asked not just to fight their country's battles but "act like modern viceroys, overseeing military operations and major economic development efforts" and "play dominant roles in the internal politics of the countries where their troops fight?"

As JFK used to say, life is unfair but the best American leaders find a way to deal with it.

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