David Petraeus, born in 1952, is a scion of a Dutch American family. His father, Sixtus Petraeus, was a sea captain who fled to the US when Holland was overrun in 1940 and who commanded a Liberty ship throughout the war. His mother was Holly Knowlton, from Brooklyn and the daughter of West Point's superintendent. Young Petraeus graduated from West Point in 1974 and returned there in 1981 to earn the General George C. Marshall Award as the top graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College Class of 1983 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He went on to earn an MPA in 1985, and a Ph.D. in International Relations in 1987 from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Later yet he served as an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the U.S. Military Academy, so in short, he's not somebody John Kerry would like to refer to to illustrate his theories on the correlation of IQ and Service in the US Army.
Petraeus began his career with an assignment to the 509th Airborne Infantry Battalion at Vicenza, Italy. The 509th was essentially a light infantry unit and looking back now, one concludes that's the branch which has been at the core of his career throughout the years. It is therefore not surprising that in March 2003, then Major General David Petraeus commanded a "light infantry" division, the famous 101st Airborne (Screaming Eagles) in its drive through Karbala, Hilla and Najaf to Baghdad. After the fall of the latter, the division spent much of the year in Iraq's north, where its brigades were responsible for Mosul and surroundings. In Mosul, Petraeus oversaw a program of public works and political reinvigoration whereby approximately 4,500 reconstruction projects were launched, not to forget the restoration and reopening of the University of Mosul. I especially recall a story from that time detailing the prodigious efforts of soldiers of the 101st laying scores of fibre optics cables to modernize Mosuls telecom infrastructure - I still must have that story somewhere, btw. Such was the impression of the general on the Iraqis he was working with that some nicknamed him "King David" (!) From that time too dates his slogan "Money is ammunition", and together with his insistence his soldiers mingle freely and unprovocatively with the local populace, this illustrates the intelligent approach with which he kept Mosul a model of "winning hearts and minds" for a long time. As much as I regret to say it - I still hold Donald Rumsfeld in very high esteem - I fear that much of the credit Petraeus built was lost when Rummy decided to replaced the 101st's foot soldiers with fast racing Strykers. As it was however, Petraeus' experiences found their way into the U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Field Manual, which by the way he co-authored.
And late in 2006, when much of Iraq was a mess - or so it seemed - people high up in Washington and the Pentagon remembered Petraeus' successful stint in Mosul. One year ago, on January 26, 2007, he was confirmed by the Senate as Commanding Officer of MNF-I, and as such, with the rank of a Four-Star General (in Europe, we would call that a Colonel-General) he oversees the operations of all coalition forces in Iraq and the implementation of what has become known as the Surge. In practice, Petraeus deployed what he had - the troops present and the newcomers - in a totally different way. Before, US troops were garrisoned in five huge main bases, from which they regularly ventured out in high-speed motorcades. Petraeus on the other hand developed a network of joint security stations in Baghdad's neighborhoods and in al-Anbar Province, in which U.S. and Iraqi troops lived and worked together. This established a constant military presence in the streets, a heavily armed community policing that is an essential element in the Counterinsurgency Strategy as co-developed by Petraeus during his time at Fort Leavenworth. In addition, he was not too proud to not encourage and fund the Sunni tribes organizing themselves in the anti-AQ Anbar Salvation Country from fall 2006 on, even though he knew these men had quite literally just the other week assaulted his troops. This especially was a risky move, but one year on it is safe to say that it worked. Baghdad and by extension Iraq may be far from safe, but Petraeus' tenure has undoubtedly heralded an new era of relative security and prosperity. And as Iraqis see what they have to gain by cooperating, they bet in ever greater numbers on the strong horse. The battle is not won yet, but with the remnants of AQI clinging to some fringe vestiges from where they spordically carry out their hallmark grueseome killings, it is beginning to look more and more like a giant mopping-up operation.
And that is largely because of Petraeus. Despite being beset from foes in Iraq and from foes in Washington, he may not only have won Iraq. If the senator who called him "the de facto spokesmen for what many of us believe to be a failed policy" is kept out of the White House... he may have won even far more.