Col. Boylan and Mr. Mansoor sat behind the witness table as prominent Democrats gave Gen. Petraeus a thorough interrogation. The general had been greeted in Washington by a Moveon.org ad in the New York Times that accused him of betraying his country.
“In continuing the surge of forces for another six months, is that likely to change that reality?” Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., now vice president, asked Gen. Petraeus. “The conclusion I’ve reached is: No.”
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, now secretary of state, told the general: “Despite what I view as your rather extraordinary efforts in your testimony both yesterday and today, I think that the reports that you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief.”
Mr. Mansoor, a professor of history at Ohio State University, said Mr. Obama did not put Gen. Petraeus in such a prominent role when he led U.S. Central Command, which oversees the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. That has helped to keep the general out of the line of fire as he now moves to Kabul.
“President Bush used Gen. Petraeus as the public face of the war in Iraq,” Mr. Mansoor said. “And deliberately so, given that the president’s approval ratings were quite low and Gen. Petraeus‘ approval ratings were quite high. He put Gen. Petraeus into a fairly unique position for a general officer, and that is to be the public media face of the conflict. As a result, Gen. Petraeus bore a lot of the brunt of the political criticism. That’s not the case in Afghanistan. President Obama has not used Petraeus in that role.”
It was at Fort Leavenworth where Gen. Petraeus brainstormed with Army and Marine Corps officers to rewrite the military’s counterinsurgency doctrine, issued as Field Manual 3-24 in December 2006. It put great weight on winning over the population by reducing insurgent violence. He sent American and Iraqi troops out of isolated base camps and into neighborhoods to mix with, and defend, the people.
“He came to Iraq with a new strategy,” said Col. Boylan. “He provided the big ideas and he provided the direction and guidance with those big ideas, painting, if you will, the white lines on the road, the left and right limits, and allowed his commanders, and encouraged his commanders, to execute the missions that they’ve been given within those bounds. One of them was, we had to get out of the bases and protect the population.”
Mr. Mansoor expects him to bring together the military, embassy and Afghan leadership as one team with the same objectives. U.S. lawmakers back from Afghanistan this year reported lousy relations between Gen. McChrystal’s staff and U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry, a former top commander in Afghanistan.
“He works very hard to ensure that he is on good relations with all the key players in governments, both host-nation government and in Washington,” said Mr. Mansoor. “He has a three-star commander in Afghanistan who fights the fight on the ground. He doesn’t need to do that.”
In Iraq, Gen. Petraeus‘ typical day had him up before 6 a.m. in his Green Zone quarters. He read and returned e-mails and checked press reports over breakfast. He would arrive at headquarters for perhaps his most important two hours — the battlefield update assessment. It became his main management tool to digest events and give orders. Next was a series of meetings with key Iraqi and allied players, and sometimes trips to see field commanders and visit communities. After 7 p.m., he would be back in quarters, having dinner and e-mailing again before retiring around 10.
“I think you’ll see a difference in style rather than substance,” Mr. Mansoor said. “He’ll be ensuring that lower-level commanders aren’t becoming so risk-averse that the troops aren’t able to fight effectively, which is what we found in Iraq in 2007 when we did [a rules of engagement] scrub back then.
“The ROE was actually OK, but it was just applied very strictly by risk-averse commanders, and as a result, the same sorts of arguments were being made by the troops, that their hands were being tied.”