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The Man Who Stayed

Author: Michael J. Gerson, Roger Hertog Senior Fellow
October 17, 2008
Washington Post


Military success is often rewarded by the opportunity and honor of succeeding - or failing - on an even larger stage.

By some accounts, Gen. David Petraeus - savior of Baghdad, deliverer of Anbar - preferred a quieter European command as his next step toward becoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Instead, he was put in charge of Central Command, covering the Wild West of the world, from pirates off the Horn of Africa to Uzbek thugs in South Waziristan. It is the site of two American wars and the home base of the global jihadist revolt. It is also the region from which the next Sept. 11-style attack on America, if one arrives, is likely to come.

When interviewed, Petraeus does not seem like a man under burdens that would make Atlas sweat. His manner is precise and practiced. He hands out charts and graphs on counterinsurgency tactics like Halloween candy, assuming that you are eager to receive them. "If it is important," he jokes, "we have a PowerPoint slide that depicts it." Such presentations can be a substitute for actual thought. In this case, the charts express a vivid and developed worldview: There is no magic formula for fighting insurgencies drawn from Iraq. It is adaptation that leads to success. Method can overcome chaos - but the method is improvisation.

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