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Newsmaker: General David H. Petraeus

  • Story Highlights
  • Presented report to U.S. Congress on U.S. military involvement in Iraq
  • Thought of as the most intelligent active-service general in U.S. army
  • Author of U.S. army's doctrine on counter-insurgency
  • Has become the personification of the latest part of Iraq war
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CNN -- When President George W. Bush appointed General David H. Petraeus as head of the U.S. military in Iraq in January 2007, the consensus was that he had picked the best man for the job.


General Petraeus holds a PhD from Princeton University and is the U.S. army's expert on counter-insurgency.

Viewed by analysts as one of the smartest generals in the U.S. military, he is thought of as one of the few members of the top brass that understand the importance of winning "hearts and minds" in the Iraq war and not just kicking in doors.

The 54-year-old general, who graduated from West Point military academy in 1974 and holds a doctorate in International Relations from Princeton University, has come to embody the most recent phase of the Iraq war.

As well as being the military commander in charge of the "surge" in troops since January 2007, he is the architect of the U.S. army's approach to counter-insurgency.

Considered one of the army's bright stars, Petraeus was asked to revise the U.S. military's strategy when he took over the Army's officer school and doctrinal center in 2005.

It was the first time the military had updated the document in 20 years. No sooner had he finished it than he was asked to put it to the test.

Gen. Petraeus gained plenty of insight into the situation in Iraq while commander of the 101st Airborne Division during the 2003 invasion.

In the months following he used the money available to commanders to pay for public works programs in the northern Mosul region, recognizing the importance in providing services and building trust with local leaders.

He then spent a year training a new Iraqi military in 2004. Since giving his report to the U.S. Congress, this career solider has become politicized, with some hoping to portray him as merely the mouthpiece of the White House or the man to bring some order to the chaos on the streets of Iraq.

Commentators commended his controlled manner during the questioning from among others, five presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain, each having a chance to show some Commander-in-Chief potential.

His report delivered first to Congress on Monday, September 10, suggested that troop numbers could be reduced by 30,000 by July 2008 -- there are currently more than 160,000 U.S. in Iraq, a greater number than at any other time.

But he gave no indication of when the last U.S. troops would leave Iraq, giving a general's answer by saying that trying to predict an end date "would be doing a disservice to our soldiers."

When asked the most direct question, is the Iraq war "making American safer?" His answer was candid: "Sir," he said, "I don't know, actually."

"Overall, our tactical commanders see improvement in the security environment," he said, repeating assertions about the decline of violence during the surge.

He admitted progress in Iraq had been uneven, but stated the "surge" campaign launched in January was meeting its goals. And he said U.S. objectives in Iraq could still be met, "although doing so will be neither quick nor easy."


A cautionary note for the general came from Senator John Kerry, during the Senate committee hearings.

Not since 1967, had a U.S. general played such an important role in making U.S. national-security strategy he said, likening Petraeus' testimony to that of William Westmoreland, the army general who told Congress that things were getting better in Southeast Asia, only for the war in Vietnam to continue for 8 more years. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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