I’m loathe to agree with anything a progressive says, but when you’re right, you’re right.
The Armchair Generalist finds a few folks calling for GEN David Petraeus to be promoted to 5-star rank.
Let’s get past the authors’ inflated sense of Petraeus’ accomplishments. Is there a case for giving him a fifth star, something that hasn’t happened since GEN Omar Bradley in 1950? I really don’t see it. As Zenpundit points out in this discussion, most of the five-star general/flag officers served in World War 2. That was an epic, world-wide conflict where politics and protocol had just as much to do with awarding a fifth star as did competency. It’s not as if Petraeus needs a fifth star to command forces in Afghanistan. Why should he outrank his “boss” at CENTCOM? He’s not leading the War on Terror across the entire globe, unless that’s his next assignment after he leaves Afghanistan. And to be clear, it’s far from evident that he’s “winning” in Afghanistan, when he’s one of the first to note how this conflict is going to take many years more to finish (if that).
I’m an admirer of GEN Petraeus. But there are a couple different reasons to rein in this admiration for him, and not give him a promotion.
First, GEN Petraeus wasn’t really the architect of the Surge in Iraq that turned things around. That was mostly retired GEN Jack Keane, the former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army. He’s the guy that went to President Bush and recommended doubling down on our commitment to Iraq. GEN Petraeus was, of course, the man charged with making that commitment work, and was fully on board with the concept behind it. But he was the execution guy, not the idea guy (in no way should this be seen as an impugnment of GEN Petraeus’ intellect, but that is the way it shook out).
Secondly, one of the biggest problems the services face right now is grade inflation for General and Flag officers. We have over 900 generals and admirals in our services today. That’s with about a million and a half Americans on active duty. At the height of World War Two, with some eight million troops in the Army alone, the Army only had 700 some general officers.
GEN Petraeus commands roughly 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. Historically, that’s roughly the size of a corps command. In our current Army, corps are commanded by a 3-star Lieutenant General. Indeed, well into WWII, corps were commanded by 2-star Major Generals. When Omar Bradley was leading the 12 US Army Group across France and to the gates of Germany itself, he was only a 3-star General. It wasn’t until the closing months of the war that he was promoted to 4-star rank.
Have we as a military, or even we as a society, become so obsessed with credentials and rank that we cannot fight and win without having to elevate a man to near god-like status? And if the Army gets a 5-star, you can bet all the other services would demand their share of the glory…
Shrinking numbers of troops and inflated numbers of high ranking brass isn’t the best recipe for military success.