Gen. David H. Petraeus closed his phenomenal 37-year Army career this week with a joint review at Fort Myer in Arlington. Service members from every branch were present, and flags of all 50 states fluttered in the breeze. A substantial crowd had come to hear the general’s farewell address. Many were classmates from the West Point Class of 1974, smartly attired but enthusiastic and occasionally whooping like they were cadets. Others were people with whom he had served over his storied career, whom he recognized from the dais during his speech. The morning was sunny and clear, and the general was his usual affable, ebullient self.
In his remarks, Gen. Petraeus recalled the days when he entered the military, when the Vietnam War was winding down and the armed services were being pared down to the “hollow forces” of the 1970s. “The Army I joined as a second lieutenant had suffered enormously,” he said. “In the wake of our involvement in Vietnam, our Army and much of our military were grappling with a host of very serious challenges.” The senior leaders who first wore the uniform in those dark days were not discouraged. They began their careers with a sense of mission. “I know I speak for many when I say that we came away from that period vowing to never let our forces get to such a point ever again.” Through his efforts, and those of countless other visionaries in and out of uniform, the hollow forces were transformed once again into the finest fighting force in the world.
Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presided over the ceremony with William J. Lynn, deputy secretary of defense. Notably absent were Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, whose former position as CIA director is Gen. Petraeus’ next assignment, and President Obama. Their non-appearance did not sit well with some. “Obama should have been here,” a warrior who served under Gen. Petraeus told The Washington Times. “And he should have invited [former President George W.] Bush. The general saved their bacon. Twice.
“Everyone has forgotten that in 2007 we as a nation had said, ‘OK, we are going to lose Iraq.’ And President Bush said, ‘Well what if we win?’ Petraeus rode into town and assembled an extraordinary team. His personal drive, his charisma, his optimism, his can-do spirit, all of that is what gave us hope that we could in fact turn Iraq around,” our source explained. “And by September of ‘07, the progress had been dramatic enough that it became common knowledge to the American people that things were turning around in Iraq. Eight months earlier, a lot of people, including Obama, wanted to tuck tail and have another Vietnam.”
That’s not all. “Here is the guy who saved our reputation as a nation. Seriously, who’s missing this? And then he went to [Central Command] and was doing great things. And Obama asked him to take a functional demotion and go back to Afghanistan and save our bacon again,” we were told. “To leave his family, to step down from a regional command, to take on that burden. And he said yes, and he did it. Petraeus was the right guy at the right time, he answered the call, and now he’s being yanked out before we’re ready, just like the troops are being yanked out before Afghanistan is ready.”
So what’s the reason for the White House about-face? “They are sending him to the CIA to keep him quiet during the 2012 election. It shows how small and scared they are. He is an honorable man, he has never expressed political ambition. But they saw him as a threat. He is an independent thinker, the finest military mind of his generation,” our source posits. “What he suffers from is that he is more excellent than almost anyone he meets, to include the president. The troops love him. Strong people surround themselves with the most excellent people they can find, even those brighter and more capable than themselves. Weak people don’t.”
There is a shameful indignity in how this hero was treated. “The president couldn’t find the time in his schedule, nor could the [defense secretary] find the time to look him in the eye and say thank you in person,” this warrior told The Washington Times. “It’s one thing to say ‘we support the troops’ and trot out your first lady to do that, but this is where it counts. It would have been an appropriate gesture to come here to recognize the professional and personal sacrifice of this extraordinary man. It would have been the dignified thing to do.”
The hero remained above it all. The cannons boomed and the crowd cheered and Gen. Petraeus stood smiling in the sun.