Petraeus' Fall As Stunning As The Career Before It The retired four-star general was on a fast track from an early age. David Petraeus was a West Point graduate with a doctoral degree from Princeton, who made a national name for himself by helping the Army rethink how it fights wars. Petraeus resigned as CIA director Friday, citing an extramarital affair.

Petraeus' Fall As Stunning As The Career Before It

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

The Director of the CIA, retired four-star General David Petraeus resigned late Friday, citing an extramarital affair. The revelation brings to an end one of the most storied careers in the modern U.S. military.

I've reported on David Petraeus for the past five years. And I was at his retirement ceremony last year when he stepped down from the Army after almost four decades in uniform.


MARTIN: There was a marching band, a gun salute.


MARTIN: But before the ceremony had even begun, General Petraeus walked up on the empty stage, went over to the podium and he tapped on the microphone. The four-star general was doing his own mic check. This is a man who leaves nothing to chance, which makes the nature of his professional fall from grace as stunning as the career that preceded it.

Here's what the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said at that retirement ceremony.

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLENS: When it comes to the art of the possible, there's General Dave Petraeus and then there's everybody else.

MARTIN: Petraeus was on a fast track from an early age. A West Point graduate, he nurtured relationships with key military leaders who became his mentors. He got a Ph.D. from Princeton. And he made a national name for himself by helping the Army re-think how it fights wars like the ones in Afghanistan and Iraq.

His counterinsurgency strategy, or COIN as it's known in military lingo, was all about winning hearts and minds. Getting buy-in from local populations so they would turn on the insurgents themselves.

I remember the summer of 2007, walking with General Petraeus in a Baghdad neighborhood that had seen a lot of violence. Dozens of U.S. Special Forces walked in front of us to seal the perimeter. Snipers perched on the rooftops looking for threats. I was in full body armor despite the 100-degree temperatures. But General Petraeus had no helmet, no flak jacket. He stopped along the street and talked casually with Iraqi shopkeepers.

DAVID PETRAEUS: So tell me the chai here is good?


MARTIN: Now, a lot of this was for the benefit of the reporters because Petraeus wanted us to believe things were getting better. He knew he had to change perceptions about the war and that meant talking to the media, which didn't always endear him to his fellow soldiers.

TOM RICKS: The Army has never really liked Petraeus very much. They don't see him as being at the core of their culture.

MARTIN: That's Tom Ricks, a longtime national security journalist who has written extensively about David Petraeus. I spoke with him about general last year.

RICKS: Here is this sort of intellectual guy, Ph.D. from Princeton, who doesn't seem to mind the culture of Washington - reporters and politicians. And at a time when they were saying nothing is working, he found a way to work in Iraq.

MARTIN: Petraeus went on to head up the military's Central Command. Then in June of 2010, President Obama asked him to return to the front lines as commander of U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan. After that, Petraeus was tapped to join Obama's cabinet as the director of the CIA. During his confirmation hearing, Petraeus took a lot of questions from senators who were concerned that the general would not be able to look critically at the war in Afghanistan from the CIA director's chair.

PETRAEUS: Clearly I have views on the efforts in which I've been engaged. I've shared them, in the past with the agency's analysts and I'll do so in the future. However, if confirmed, when I am in the Situation Room with the president, I will strive to present the agency position.

MARTIN: And by most counts, he did just that. Making a relatively seamless transition from military commander to the leader of the country's top intelligence agency. But after less than 15 months in the job, Petraeus is now out.


MARTIN: At his military retirement ceremony, Petraeus thanked the supporters who referred to themselves as Coindinistas - after his COIN strategy.

PETRAEUS: Now please rest assured that I'm not out to give one last boost to the counterinsurgency field manual or to try recruit all you for COINdinista Nation. I do believe, however, that we have re-learned since 9/11 the timeless lesson that we don't always get to fight the wars for which we're most prepared or most inclined.

MARTIN: In other words, the unexpected can change a war. It can also change a career.

David Petraeus' resignation is effective immediately.


Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.