The Human Side of Gen. Petraeus' Confirmation Hearings
Most of the reports I have seen on yesterday's Senate confirmation hearings for General David H. Petraeus’ nomination to Commander, ISAF/US Forces–Afghanistan, focused on what the senators and the general had to say, ask and answer about our political and military objectives, policies and strategy and about the course of the war itself in Afghanistan—as it should be.
After the hearings, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to approve General Petraeus and to refer his nomination to the full Senate, where his confirmation is virtually assured in a vote this week.
While of course the general’s testimony and the subsequent question-and-answer session are extremely important and will be analyzed and discussed ad infinitum, there were three items in General Petraeus’ opening statement that, in my opinion, defined the man and convinced me that—considering everything else we know about him—President Obama has definitely made the right choice.
First, at the very onset of his opening statement, the general—a gentleman—recognized and thanked the man he was replacing in Afghanistan, General McChrystal:
I would like to begin this morning by saying a few words about General Stan McChrystal, someone I’ve known and admired for nearly 30 years. General McChrystal has devoted his entire professional life to the defense of this nation, and he and his family have made enormous personal sacrifices during his lengthy deployments over the past nine years in particular. His contributions during that time were very significant. I can attest, for example, that the success of the surge in Iraq would not have been possible without General McChrystal’s exceptional leadership of our special mission unit forces there. Similarly, the development of the Joint Special Operations Command during his unprecedented tenure commanding JSOC was extraordinary as well.
General Petraeus went on to describe and give credit to McChrystal’s contributions in Afghanistan.
Second, towards the end of his statement, the general—a leader and a soldier—recognized and offered his thanks and appreciation for the work and the sacrifices of his troops and their families:
As I close, I would like to once again note the extraordinary work being done by our troopers on the ground in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere around the world. Our young men and women truly deserve the recognition they have earned as America’s new greatest generation. There is no question that they comprise the finest, most combat-hardened military in our Nation’s history.
There is also no question that they and their families have made enormous sacrifices since 9/11, in particular. Many of them have deployed on multiple tours to perform difficult missions under challenging circumstances against tough, barbaric enemies. We cannot, in my view, ever thank our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen enough, though what Americans have done to support those in uniform and our deployed civilians has been truly wonderful. Indeed, nothing has meant more to our troopers and their families than the appreciation of those here at home.
Earlier on, Petraeus also assured the mothers and fathers of those fighting in Afghanistan that he sees it “as a moral imperative to bring all assets to bear to protect our men and women in uniform and the Afghan security forces with whom ISAF troopers are fighting shoulder-to-shoulder,” and that he is keenly aware of “concerns by some of our troopers on the ground about the application of our rules of engagement and the tactical directive.” “They should know that I will look very hard at this issue,” the general said.
Finally, the general—a family man and a human being—had this to say about his wife of 36 years, Holly Petraeus, watching from the front row of the spectators:
As you noted, Mr. Chairman, my wife, Holly, is here with me today. She is a symbol of the strength and dedication of families around the globe who wait at home for their loved ones while they are engaged in critical work in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. She has hung tough while I have been deployed for over 5 ½ years since 9/11.
He thoughtfully added, “So have untold other spouses, children, and loved ones as their troopers have deployed and continued to raise their right hands time and time again. Clearly, our families are the unsung heroes of the long campaigns on which we have been embarked over the past decade.”
No matter what anyone may think or say about the war in Afghanistan or about the general’s military skills and record, I do not believe that anyone can deny General Petraeus’ chivalry or his love of country, troops and family.