Gen. David Petraeus Gets A Demotion : The Two-Way Technically speaking, Gen. David Petraeus gets a demotion from the president.  But his reputation seems secure.
NPR logo Gen. David Petraeus Gets A Demotion

Gen. David Petraeus Gets A Demotion

Gen. David Petraeus. Nicholas Kamm/AFP hide caption

toggle caption
Nicholas Kamm/AFP

Earlier, we noted how pleased several analysts are with President Obama's decision to pick Gen. David Petraeus to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

But isn't this a demotion for Petraeus, the head of the United States Central Command (US CENTCOM)?

According to the National Review's Jonah Goldberg, it isn't.

"The idea that he has been demoted strikes me as absurd in the grand sense of things," he writes. "You could yank all the stars off his shoulders and if he succeeded in his new assignment, no one would care."

It is not a demotion to be considered the indispensable man in the most important challenge facing the military. The fact that he stepped "down" to take the job is a promotion in every meaningful sense. Paper titles don't matter all that much at his level.

Associated Press reporters Kimberly Dozier and Anne Flaherty say that, technically speaking, it is.

"Yet no one who has worked with him thinks that's how he'll see it," they note, quoting John Nagl, the president of the Center for a New American Security, who says that Petraeus "is getting another opportunity to step into a war at a critical inflection point. So this is by no means a step down."

Blogging for The Washington Post, Ezra Klein draws an important lesson from the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal and the appointment of his successor:

"The McChrystal controversy has reflected extraordinarily well on the military as an institution," he writes.  "McChrystal was clearly lax on policing criticism within his command, but when the system was made aware of that failure, the system worked.  You did not see politically disgruntled generals rallying around McChrystal."

Instead, what you saw was David Petraeus taking a command that amounts to a demotion from his current post and could destroy his reputation as a miracle worker.

Until yesterday, Petraeus would have been remembered for changing the momentum of the war in Iraq.  He very easily could've rested on those laurels for the rest of his life, Klein notes.

Instead, Petraeus is going to put that reputation back on the line in service of a war effort that may well be doomed.  Why?  Well, the citizen who leads the military asked him to, and a soldier obeys.

OK.  So, the thrust of all this is: technically Petraeus is taking a demotion, but really, it's not a big deal.  Really.

Clare Sestanovich puts it all in an historical context, in a post on Foreign Policy's Passport blog:

This isn't entirely unprecedented. In 1941, then-President Franklin Roosevelt demoted Douglas MacArthur as part of a strategic -- not punitive -- change of policy.

Of course, as Sestanovich notes, "ten years later, of course, MacArthur got the axe for real for his public disagreements with President Harry Truman over U.S. strategy in the Korean war."