General David Petraeus had it made. For the past twenty months he has led United States Central Command, with responsibility for actual and potential military operations from Egypt to Pakistan. He has lived the luxurious life of a four-star general at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa—one of the most prestigious, glamorous, and comfortable assignments the U.S. military has to offer. After spending most of the last ten years separated from his family on assignments on Bosnia and Iraq—the last two as commander of the multi-national force there—he was on the verge of retirement, praised as America’s greatest general, perhaps the greatest since the glory days of MacArthur, Patton, and Eisenhower.
Then General Stanley McChrystal invited a reporter from Rolling Stone magazine to live with his command in Afghanistan for weeks, where the reporter chronicled for the world the contempt that McChrystal and his senior staff had for the President and his national security team. Obama fired McChrystal and asked Petraeus to take a demotion, going from McChrystal’s boss to his replacement. And going from palatial four-star housing with his wife in Tampa to battlefield accommodations in Afghanistan.
Petraeus said yes sir, once again answering his country’s call. His coming service as commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan may enhance or may diminish his reputation as a great general. There’s no doubt, however, that it will remind America of the meaning of the West Point ethic: Duty, Honor, Country.