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April 1st, 2010 10:49 pm
David Petraeus: Profile in Greatness
Posted by Print

Here’s a little secret about those of us who tend to the Freedom Line garden (though it applies equally to all our brethren in the conservative blogosphere): we’re hopeless nerds. Our reader’s digests of political and policy developments come from hours of reading, writing, and thinking about the great issues of the day. Government is for us what fantasy football is to a much broader swath of America.

When you spend that much time consuming news, however, the callouses develop quickly. It’s hard to be impressed. To break through to the sense of genuine wonder that brought us into this field usually requires either singularly great writing or a singularly great man.

I mention all this to give a full-throated endorsement to Mark Bowden’s article “The Professor of War,” a profile of General David Petraeus in the May issue of Vanity Fair (a publication whose political coverage — with some exceptions for Christopher Hitchens — is usually uneven at best). This is a piece so exceptional — and an individual so compelling — that one can only hope Bowden someday gets drafted to be Petraeus’s official biographer.

This piece is far too rich to justify through excerpt, so here’s one brief paragraph that ably represents the writing in microcosm:

Congress underestimated David Petraeus. He is a man of such distinction that in the army legends have formed about his rise. Beyond his four-star rank, he possesses a stature so matchless it deserves its own adjective—call it “Petraean,” perhaps. It is an adjective that would be mostly complimentary, but not entirely so—there can be a hard edge to the man, a certain lack of empathy, and there is something vaguely unseemly in his obvious ambition. But when Petraeus tests himself, he usually wins. When he assumed command in Iraq, he had accepted a challenge few thought even he could meet, turning around the longest and most mismanaged war in American history. But Iraq is only part of the story. Through his writing and teaching, Petraeus was at the same time redefining how the nation will fight in the 21st century. And he was doing something more difficult still: leading a cultural and doctrinal revolution inside one of the most hidebound institutions in the world, the United States Army. Whatever the fate of Iraq and Afghanistan, this transformation is a Petraean legacy that will be felt for years to come.

My favorite piece of journalism so far in 2010. Read the whole thing here.

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