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By 2006, he turned scholar, commanding the Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

He took on a task that ultimately would result in victory and fame, and he oversaw the rewriting of Army doctrine on how to fight an insurgency.

Meanwhile, one of his mentors, retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, was lobbying the Bush administration to surge more forces into Iraq or risk losing the war. Mr. Bush agreed and tapped Mr. Petraeus for a fourth star and command of Iraq.

A central component of the plan was to win over the population by taking U.S. troops out of forward operating bases and putting them in neighborhood security stations side by side with Iraqis. By the fall of 2007, the surge showed signs of success. The number of enemy attacks began to drop.

Petraeus executed the surge, a critical eight months, superbly,” Mr. Hunter said. “He started settling down Baghdad.”

Entry into espionage

That fall, Mr. Petraeus flew to Washington to confront a bitterly divided Congress.

The left-wing group greeted him with an ad in The New York Times accusing him of betraying his country.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, pronounced the war “lost” just as the surge was starting to work. Hillary Rodham Clinton, then a U.S. senator from New York, called Mr. Petraeus‘ testimony a “willing suspension of disbelief.”

“He did not react emotionally to that,” Mr. Mansoor said. “He realized this is a process that needed to go forward. He dealt with a divided Congress in a very professional manner. Future military officers would have a lot to learn by studying his performance in that regard.”

Mr. Biddle said Mr. Petraeus set another standard, this one in the way a commander attacks an insurgency.
By 2007, Joint Special Operations Command, coupled with various spy assets and personnel, had become expert at finding and killing terrorist cell leaders. Mr. Petraeus observed that killing militant leaders led to fewer insurgent attacks.

“I suspect his reason for being willing to take the CIA job is that he was becoming increasingly impressed with what you could accomplish by taking out specific individual enemy leaders, as opposed to either destroying large enemy formations or protecting large bodies of civilians,” Mr. Biddle said. “These things aren’t mutually exclusive. By disrupting enemy leadership, you both reduce the effectiveness of their rank and file, and therefore, you help defend the population.”

Mr. Mansoor recalled that there was more to his former commander than enemy body counts. Mr. Petraeus wanted to set an example for the well-rounded soldier.

“At every point of his career, he attempted to broaden his horizon with academic training, by focusing on education … by reaching outside his comfort zone to folks outside the military who might have interesting things to offer,” he said. “It is through this broadening he was able to develop not just professional skill, but the creativity to confront the very difficult situations he was faced with.”