When announced earlier this year, President Bush's selection of General David Petraeus as senior U.S. commander in Iraq met with something like universal acclaim. Not since 1862, when Abraham Lincoln restored George B. McClellan to command of the Army of the Potomac after Second Bull Run, had the appointment of a senior officer been received with such enthusiasm or created such high expectations. Gushing media reports compared Petraeus to T.E. Lawrence and the biblical King David. The Senate confirmed his promotion and appointment without a dissenting vote. After a long series of frustrating missteps and failures, here, it seemed, was the general who would put things right.
The encomiums thrown his way derived from the belief that, in Petraeus, Bush had, at long last, found a general who grasped the actual nature of the Iraq war. (Bush certainly believes so: According to a recent article in The Washington Post, the president has mentioned Petraeus "at least 150 times this year in speeches, interviews, and news conferences.") As commander of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, Petraeus stabilized parts of northern Iraq in the vicinity of Mosul and established a functioning government in that city, while L. Paul Bremer and the CPA floundered in Baghdad. Drawing on his own experiences and on insights from the study of history--his Ph.D. dissertation at Princeton had assessed the lessons of Vietnam--Petraeus had led the way in helping the Army rediscover counterinsurgency doctrine. He had served, in effect, as the author-in-chief of "Field Manual 3-24," the Army's recently published and largely well-received counterinsurgency handbook.