On his way to the White House to learn of the administration’s plans to draw down the Afghan surge, General David Petraeus was asked a question from a retired mentor:
Petraeus had returned to Washington from his command in Kabul for consultations with Obama on the drawdown, and for a Senate committee hearing on his nomination to become the next director of the CIA. On the way from the Pentagon, retired Army general Jack Keane, a mentor and former vice chief of staff of the Army, e-mailed Petraeus with rumors of what he was hearing: The White House was going to recommend 10,000 troops depart by the end of 2011, with the remaining 23,000 surge forces out by the summer of 2012, a far more drastic timetable for withdrawal than Petraeus had recommended.
Keane was protective of his prodigy. Obama’s decision “not only protracts the war but risks the mission,” Keane said in the e-mail, then asked: “should you consider resigning?”
“I don’t think quitting would serve our country,” Petraeus responded. “More likely to create a crisis. And, I told POTUS I’d support his ultimate decision. Besides, the troops can’t quit. . . .”
Undivided loyalty to his own troops and to his civilian chain of command, a concept more valuable to the Republic even than the risk of losing the war in Afghanistan. To channel Rummy, you go to war with the government you’ve got, for better or worse.
It’s all well and good for those who have no skin in the game to ask field commanders to consider throwing their stars on the table in some romantic gesture. But some lesser man will always be found to do the politicians’ bidding, and in the end it’s the troops in the field who would suffer for it.