Where hamartia does not diminish greatness
It seems hard to fathom now, but only 15 months ago, Gen. David H. Petraeus stood at attention on a sunny Fort Myer parade ground, listening to his peers compare him to the most accomplished generals in American history. Cannons boomed, sending clouds of white smoke billowing into the air. A band played patriotic marches.
The moment was heady, the words intended for the ages.
“You now stand among the giants, not just in our time, but of all time, joining the likes of Grant and Pershing and Marshall and Eisenhower as one of the great battle captains,” Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Petraeus before the hundreds assembled to salute the departing general on the final day of his 37-year military career.
The affair that forced Petraeus to resign from the CIA in early November has done more than send him to an unexpected, early retirement. It has prompted a head-snapping reassessment of the general’s entire record in Iraq and Afghanistan. Once-smitten reporters have penned lengthy mea culpas of how they fell prey to Petraeus’s myth-making, claiming that his considerable charms blinded them to his battlefield shortcomings. Some historians, rushing to rejudgment, are asking whether he produced victory in Iraq or merely a palatable stalemate. A headline on a New York Times opinion piece went so far as to brand him “A Phony Hero for a Phony War.”