A Fifth Star for Petraeus (Revisited)

Would our nation and our war effort in Afghanistan benefit from the appointment of a five-star general, a General of the Army, and should it be Gen. David Petraeus? I say "yes" to both.
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When I argued last summer that General David Petraeus should be considered for a fifth star, my remarks were met with skepticism and even ridicule.

I must admit that my idea was not original. A couple of weeks before, D.B. Grady -- a former paratrooper with U.S. Army Special Operations Command, a veteran of Afghanistan and an author -- had written an article in the Atlantic supporting the idea of making General Petraeus a five-star general, a General of the Army.

Brady said, in part:

It's difficult to find a war in American history where so much depended on any one man. [Petraeus] is the face of this war, the spiritual commander in chief amongst presidencies deficient in military authority. He is the only man, general or civilian, who can stand before the American people, the American soldier, and military families, and discuss the conflict without being second-guessed or dismissed out of hand as a partisan hack.


General Petraeus embodies that commitment. And as General of the Army, he will be given an unambiguous mandate with the unfettered support of the president and the nation.

Just last week, two other distinguished combat veterans, Pete Hegseth and Wade Zirkle *, also came out in strong support for the new Congress to authorize a fifth star for Gen. Petraeus. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed they write:

The U.S. war against terrorism is now the longest war in U.S. history, and Gen. Petraeus has clearly distinguished himself as a leader worthy of joining the ranks of Gens. MacArthur, Marshall and Nimitz...

It has been more than half a century since a U.S. general was awarded a fifth star. David Petraeus's generalship has spanned 11 years, three presidents and seven Congresses. It is time to promote him to "General of the Army" and award him a fifth star. Our military deserves it, and he has certainly earned it


My original article on this issue was rather long.

Having had the benefit of hearing from the skeptics and naysayers, let me summarize my previous comments in light of such criticism:

The history of our "generals of the Armies" and "generals of the Army" is a long and distinguished one going back to 1866, when Congress authorized the grade of General of the Army and conferred that grade upon Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

More recently, during and immediately after World War II, our nation has had nine five-star generals and admirals.

The last five-star general to serve our nation was Gen. Omar N. Bradley who became General of the Army in 1950.

So here we are, 30 years since our last five-star general died, winding down one war and stepping up the pace of another one. It's time for another George C. Marshall, another Douglas MacArthur.

Would our nation -- our war effort in Afghanistan -- benefit from the appointment of a five-star general, a General of the Army, and should it be Gen. David Petraeus? I say "yes" to both.

Petraeus has now become the face of the Afghanistan war -- many say our last and only hope to win that war. If we are serious about winning in Afghanistan, then let's give the commander of that war the rank, prestige and authority to match our seriousness and our commitment.

It will show that the president and Congress unequivocally trust and believe in Petraeus -- Americans already do -- and that he has their total support.

There is no person more qualified and capable than Petraeus to succeed in Afghanistan. After all, he literally wrote the book on counterinsurgency operations and he validated it in Iraq.

He is replicating it in Afghanistan. He has already declared, "We are in this to win."

Yes, there will be some protocol issues, some "chain of command" confusion, some egos bruised with all those four-star Chiefs of Staff and other four-star generals running around. Protocol issues can be fixed. The chain of command -- from Gen. Petraeus through the Secretary of Defense directly to the President -- can be quickly explained. Bruised egos can be soothed -- or brushed aside.

Defeat or retreat in battle cannot be fixed, brushed aside or explained away.

* Messrs. Hegseth and Zirkle are directors at Vets for Freedom. Mr. Hegseth served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division, and will deploy to Afghanistan in 2011. Mr. Zirkle served two deployments to Iraq as a Marine infantry officer, and is a recipient of the Purple Heart.

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