Stars of a Different Kind for Gen. Petraeus

08/15/2011 12:31 pm ET | Updated Oct 15, 2011


As Gen. David Petraeus steps down from the helm of what is now America's longest war, a war that according to many is not going well at all and at a time when casualties in that war are on the increase -- sadly accentuated by the tragic loss of 30 of our heroes in a single enemy attack just last week -- his accomplishments in Afghanistan and his legacy are already being fiercely debated.

To some, the jury is still out but others have already made up their minds, one way or another.

TIME's Joe Klein, for example, calls Petraeus' career "brilliant."

I for one have been a staunch supporter of the general ever since he took charge in that war-torn country on July 4, 2010, after having served for over 20 months as Commander, United States Central Command.

I have admired the General, his record and his performance so much that one year ago last summer, I argued for giving Petraeus a fifth star based on the following:

If we are serious about fighting and winning in Afghanistan, then let's give the commander of that war the rank and the authority to match our seriousness and commitment.

General Petraeus has now become the face of the Afghanistan war -- many say our only hope to win that war or to come home with honor.

It would show that the President and Congress truly trust and believe in Petraeus -- Americans already do -- and that he has the unambiguous support of the president, the Congress and the nation.

I also mentioned that I was not alone in making such a suggestion and pointed to the words of D.B. Grady, a former paratrooper with U.S. Army Special Operations Command and a veteran of Afghanistan, in The Atlantic:

He is, quite literally, the only man for the job. He is the last man standing with the public who can credibly be called upon to not only win the war, but to do the impossible. He has, after all, done it before.

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.

I was not the only one arguing for a fifth star for Petraeus.

As far back as April 2008, during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Petraeus, "If I could promote you to five stars, I would."

Then, in January of this year, prompted by an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by two distinguished combat veterans, Pete Hegseth and Wade Zirkle, I rejoined the debate quoting their words:

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.

In a little more than two weeks, Gen. Petraeus will retire from the U.S. Army, after having served our nation in many historic roles in a distinguished manner for 37 years, and will assume his new duties as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency on September 1.

Despite being one of the finest military officers of his generation, the general will retire without becoming Chief of Staff of the Army or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- two positions for which he is eminently qualified and more than deserving of. Equally sad, that fifth star which so many of us wished upon the general has also eluded him. (To be sure and to the best of my knowledge, Gen. Petraeus has never sought such an advancement.)

When David Petraeus enters the "original" CIA headquarters building lobby as its 20th director,
he will come face-to-face with the "CIA Memorial Wall," a white Vermont marble Wall carved with 102* stars. An inscription on the Wall in gold block letters says it all:


Regrettably, new stars are added periodically to the Wall. One of the duties of the new Director will be to approve the new stars.

Gen. Petraeus' and his soon-to-be Agency's most important responsibility, as the nation's first line of defense, is to "accomplish what others cannot accomplish and go where others cannot go."

As such, the four-star general will be trading the honor of a possible fifth silver star for the solemn responsibility -- and honor -- of ensuring that the ultimate sacrifices represented by the more than 100 stars forever carved on that Memorial Wall will not have been for naught.

"These stars are testament to our past and
our present. To our history and our spirit.
To a defining trait of the CIA and the nation
it protects: devotion to duty in pursuit of
freedom for all."

Director George J. Tenet
May 2004

* Most recent number according to Wikipedia.

Memorial Wall sources: CIA Library