There is no doubt that General “King David” Petraeus – will be well remembered when history books are written about our generation. Taking command in Iraq, when virtually all had written it off as lost will always be his moment of brilliance and shall not be diminished. He has served this nation with honor and distinction, and frankly still should despite his admission of an extramarital affair on Friday. As in all things, balance is necessary -- and I do not see balance in the current situation.
While I do not know him, many of the senior officers I know and respect have the highest regard for him and his work. There is not one of them who have ever said an ill word about David Petraeus or his personal leadership ability.
What is most important, in my book, is that he was an effective leader, period. His legacy of success will not be diminished by any admission that he has the frailty and weakness of any man – he is human.
His nickname given to him by the soldiers he service with was mean as a compliment. In Iraq, as King David he was a fair arbiter of action and authority. Upon his assumption of command of all U.S and coalition forces in Iraq in 2007 he was able to function in an aggressive, decisive manner and use the tools of U.S. national power to bring stability to the Iraq we now know. He got things done.
Think about the irony here. We have huge social issues of change sweeping the nation - states legalizing gay marriage and recreational use of marijuana…and in contrast we have an effective leader – at a critical time - who is now departing under a cloud over a single, human mistake.
Other generals of similar stead have had similar issues. General Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower, who served as one of the greatest generals in our history . A man who, in World War II, made the gutsy decision to “go” on June 6, 1944 to conduct Operation OVERLORD, the invasion of Nazi held France.
One of the lesser known facts of history is that it has long been alleged that Eisenhower had an affair with his driver Kay Summersby who later became his secretary, while he was in England. It's a fact that if true, Army brass at the time, as well as FDR knew of but permitted. Why? Because Eisenhower was an effective, but flawed leader, who had a job to do. He was not asked to resign by FDR and went on to become president himself.
If the allegations of an affair are true, Eisenhower was an effective leader, who was human and not perfect.
To be successful – to succeed as a military leader -- you have to abandon the mediocre. You have to establish an effective path forward that allows you to both accept the reality before you for what it is, and yet have the optimism and tools to change that very reality for the better. General Petraeus was able to do this in his professional military and CIA career.
The cost of success is high – it takes personal sacrifice, persistence and an ability to read the road ahead to avoid pitfalls and detours. Petraeus navigated the road of our national defense -- and did so in an effective manner.
General Petraeus once said “Reconciliation is what takes place, of course, at the highest level…” While the quote was about Hamid Karzai and Afghanistan – it seems to be appropriate here to note General Petraeus' departure. We are about to enter a week of hearings on the Benghazi terrorism incident on September 11, 2012 in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others died. There are numerous questions and conflicting narratives that must now be reconciled.
It is clear, from the timing of Petraeus resignation, there is a “reconciliation” of a political nature now on-going around Benghzai – and General David Petraeus’s departure has more to do with Benghazi than any personal lapse of judgment that could and should have been resolved through marriage counseling and a heartfelt apology.
We should be grateful for General Petraeus and men like him who use their intelligence and skill to protect this nation over a lifetime – and remember him for his outstanding service…and ask hard questions as to how a simple human mistake can be used as justification to remove a leader in a critical time in our nation’s history.
Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer (ret.) is a former senior intelligence officer and the New York Times bestselling author of Operation "Dark Heart: Spycraft an Special Operations on the Frontlines of Afghanistan – And The Path to Victory." His latest book is The Last Line. He is the Director of External Communications for the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (CADS) and Senior Advisor on the Congressional Task Force on National and Homeland Security. The opinions reflected here are those solely of Lt. Col. Shaffer -- and are not the opinion of the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (CADS) or of any other group or organization with which Lt. Col. Shaffer is affiliated.