5 Stars?

DB Grady, writing at The Atlantic, proposes promoting GEN David Petraeus to 5 star rank:

For that reason, and because President Obama has recommitted this nation to war in Afghanistan and the continued campaign in Iraq, General Petraeus should be promoted to General of the Army, and given a fifth star.

He would be the first man to hold that rank since the revered Omar Bradley in 1950. It would require authorization by the president and confirmation by the Senate. In practice it wouldn’t change the job of General Petraeus. But it would not only show that President Obama believes in Petraeus — that he’s not simply throwing America’s best general into the arena for political expediency — but would also reassure soldiers and civilians alike that this White House expects this man to win. This man’s plan to work.

Um… how can I put this politely?


There’s currently about 95,000 troops in A-stan. Let’s call it the functional equivalent of a field army ( a field army is the higher headquarters of two or more corps in a theater). By all rights, that should be a 3-star job. Heck, Bradley fought almost all of the war in Europe as a LTG (3-stars), and was only promoted to GEN at the very end of the campaign, in spite of commanding a force larger than today’s US Army. Indeed, the only real reason Bradley received a 5th star was to ensure that as Chairman of the Joint Chief’s of Staff he outranked MacArthur, his subordinate in the Far East commanding the troops in Korea.

Normally, the 4-star commander would be CENTCOM, the combatant commander for the region. But due to the fact that CENTCOM is fighting two different wars in its area of responsibility, the US has taken the unusual step of appointing two intermediate theater commanders, one for Afghanistan, and one for Iraq, as the immediate subordinates for CENTCOM. Promoting Petraeus to General of the Army would be a serious case of grade inflation.

Further, one of the problems the services all face right now is grade inflation across the board. There have been increasing numbers of general and flag officers for the services since World War II, despite the fact that the services have shrunk to a fraction of their former size.

It was one thing to have 5-star generals (and admirals) when the armed forces were almost 10% of the population. But today’s army is less then 10% of the size it was in WWII. If I were in charge, there’d only be two 4-stars in each service. And none of the combatant commanders, with the possible exception of PACOM, would be 4 star billets.  I’d also probably bump back corps command to a two-star billet. And you wouldn’t believe the number of GO/FO slots on the institutional side I’d get rid of. Given that there’s only 10 division equivalents in the active force, I can’t really think of any reason we need more than about 20 Major Generals.

Mind you, I don’t want anyone to think this is any criticism of GEN Petraeus. It isn’t. But the bureaucratic bloat in the services is getting to be as bad as any other department of the government, and promoting officers to ever higher levels for no good reason isn’t going to help that situation.

Vanity Fair profiles GEN Petraeus

Unless I picked up a copy in the waiting room at a doctor’s office, I can’t remember the last time I looked at Vanity Fair. But right now, they are featuring a profile of GEN David Petraeus, written by Mark Bowden. You’ll remember Bowden from Blackhawk Down and Killing Pablo. It looks like an excerpt from an upcoming book, and is an interesting read.

Petraeus had known that his reception would be unfriendly. This was not the loyal soldier reporting back from the front to a grateful nation; this was an inquisition. Congress had commanded his presence. The general had prepared for it like a defense attorney facing a hostile jury. He understood the politics in play. He also knew what was going on in Iraq far better than anyone else in the room.

H/T to Cuffy Meigs, again at H2.