National Security

Gen. Petraeus Is Too Important To 'Be Thrown Out'

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Despite the rapid revelations of the scandal, military writer Tom Ricks remains a defender of General Petraeus. He's written much about the general over the years, and also knows Paula Broadwell, the writer with whom Petraeus had an affair. Steve Inskeep talks to Ricks, who's latest book is called The Generals.


Despite the rapid revelations of the scandal, the military writer Tom Ricks remains a defender of General Petraeus.


He's written much about the general over the years, and he also knows Paula Broadwell, the writer with whom Petraeus had an affair.

How long have you known General Petraeus and Paula Broadwell?

TOM RICKS: I've known General Petraeus, I'd say, about 15 years, since he was a colonel. I think I met him on a trip in Korea. We were sitting outside a meeting at the Korean Defense Ministry, and I just struck up a conversation with him and found him a smart, interesting guy.

INSKEEP: Right. And he turned out to be a rising star, I suppose.

RICKS: Yeah, and an engaging guy who was interested in the world and talking to reporters about what they were up to and politicians and so on, unusual for an Army general. Paula Broadwell, I think I probably known about four or five years ago. You know, you'd be at these conferences on counterinsurgency and run into her. And, in fact, I eventually introduced her to my book editor. Like a lot of people come through and say, hey, Tom, I'm interested in writing a book on such and such, I'd put them in with my book editor, and she was one of them.

INSKEEP: When you heard the news about the two of them, did it surprise you at all?

RICKS: It surprised me enormously about Dave Petraeus. He's a guy who had such ambition all his life, who wanted to be a great captain of the military. It made me wonder just how much stress he's been under. We've put him now through three combat tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. It made me wonder: Geez, you know, really, has this taken more out of him than we thought? It actually really bothers me. He gave so generously to the country of his time, and his family has made such sacrifices, that when it came time for us to be generous to him, we couldn't find it to forgive him and said - we're kind of instead dragging him through the mud nationally.

INSKEEP: You're saying that he should not have resigned, or his resignation should not have been accepted by the president?

RICKS: What I would like to have seen President Obama do is say, you know Dave, you really screwed up this time. You need to go home and make amends to your life, and then your punishment for all that is you're going back to work, because you're too important to just be thrown out.

It does strike me that in World War II, Dwight Eisenhower pretty openly carried on a romance with his beautiful, red-haired British driver, Kay Summersby, yet he was not pulled back and told, you know, Ike, sorry. You can't lead D-Day. We're going to have to find somebody else.

Our standards have changed, I think, in a way that's not for the better. We are very lax about enforcing professional standards and demanding professional competence. Yet somehow, we have become very insistent about judging people's private, consenting relations with other adults.

INSKEEP: This has become an occasion to reappraise the whole reputation of General David Petraeus. He's been attacked in some articles for his military performance, entirely aside from the affair. Has Petraeus actually gotten some extra breaks because he did so aggressively cultivate the media?

RICKS: I think David Petraeus understood that part of the job of a general is to talk to the media. To fault him for doing that is to fault him for actually, I think, one of the better parts of his performance as a general. There is a whole lot of revisionism going on right now. You know, I'm expecting any day to see an article appear, you know, "Tommy Franks: Misunderstood Genius," you know.

INSKEEP: The general who invaded Iraq at the beginning, but there was no plan, apparently, for what to do after the invasion.

RICKS: Yeah. And then finally, David Petraeus comes in, and David Petraeus, through taking some prudent risks, manages to extricate the United States from Iraq. Now, the Iraq War's not over, but David Petraeus got the United States out and should be credited with that. He was a successful general when others were not. And so to have his personal, private affairs somehow detract from that is like saying, well, you know, Eisenhower really didn't win World War II because, look, he was sleeping with his chauffeur. You know, there's just not connection between the two.

INSKEEP: If you were to make a serious criticism of General David Petraeus, what would it be?

RICKS: I remember a friend of his saying to me in Iraq one day: Dave Petraeus is incredibly good. He's better than the other generals you see here. The problem is he's not as good as he thinks he is. And I would think that would be a genuine and substantial criticism, you know, and there may have been some hubris here. And he certainly - he has gone for a national fall that I think he must find excruciating.

INSKEEP: Tom Ricks is a military writer and author most recently of "The Generals." Thanks very much.

RICKS: You're welcome.



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