Day 1, October 31, 2008



"When General Petraeus took charge 19 months ago, darkness had descended on this land... Merchants of chaos were gaining strength. Death was commonplace. Around the world, questions mounted about whether a new strategy – or any strategy, for that matter – could make a real difference.

"Slowly, but inexorably, the tide began to turn... Our enemies took a fearsome beating they will not soon forget. Reinforced and fortified by our own people, the soldiers of Iraq found new courage and confidence. And the people of Iraq, resilient and emboldened, rose up to take back their country."

US Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on General David Petraeus as the US Commanding General, Multi-National Force-Iraq.

Much has been said about the popularity of Barack Obama, and how he mesmerises even tough US-skeptics across the Atlantic. But there is one man who beats him hands down in winning over hearts and minds. The Europeans love him - The Daily Telegraph in Britain named him 2007's Man of the Year and he was the German Der Speigel's "America's Most Respected Soldier", and more significantly both Republicans and Democrats cannot sing his praises enough.

Obama himself said he has “done a brilliant job” and John McCain called him a “great general”. Indeed the surge in troop numbers he spearheaded turned the situation in Iraq around from a quagmire so successfully that both presidential candidates are to have his defense credentials rub off a little on themselves. They have each cited him as character witness for their own foreign policy strategies, because albeit impossibly, he agrees with both of them.

This man of the moment is General David Petraeus, until just six weeks ago, US Commander in Iraq. Today he steps up as head of the US Central Command.

In this new position, General Petraeus will oversee the country's military operations in the part of the world mothers implore their sons to keep away from. It is the cradle of current-and-potential war zones that nestle between Egypt and Pakistan latitude-wise, and Yemen and Kazahstan longitudinally. Mercifully, Israel remains removed from the hands of the Central Command's AOR or Area of Responsibility. A search for “Israel” on the Central Command's website turns up just four results, because like in the football World Cup groupings, the Jewish state - including the occupied Palestinian territories – is categorised with Europe.

Yet even without Israel, there is enough in this potent brew of geopolitics, religious extremism, entrenched tribal distrust and exuberant energy exploits within the CentCom's AOR. There is no one country really, that he can afford to keep his eyes off of, but the main focus of the command will be on the forgotten war of 9-11, still raging in Afghanistan.

Of his last posting in Iraq, President Bush said, "General David Petraeus was asked to do a very difficult job, and he did it with distinction and honor."

Of the increase in troop deployment that Petraeus put forth, Bush noted, "He implemented the surge, along with a lot of other brave people. And the United States and the world is better off because of it."

Hopefully the next president will be able to say something similar about this other “difficult job” to fall on the general's plate today.

We sure do need it.


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