David Patraeus: The Return of the Warrior Scholar
By Bernie Quigley
- for The Hill on 2/03/09
As The Hill Pundit Blogger Ryan J. Davis has recently pointed out, General David Patraeus, Commander of U.S. Central Command in Iraq, may see an opening in 2012 for a run for President. It is said that when General Paraeus looks in the mirror he sees President Patraeus. The question is, does the mirror see President Patraeus when it looks back at General Patraeus?
Quite possibly. Or Vice President Patraeus. The crisis of authority; the crisis of leadership; the crisis of character and economy and war; the 60-year, post-war equilibrium dust under the bed in a matter of weeks and the shattered dreams and shards of globalization aren’t bad enough yet for an Army General to win in a straight up run for President. More has to break. But we’re getting there. We could be there by 2012.
Reports are that he got the most applause when he flipped the coin to start the Super Bowl on Sunday. I for one out of the 90 million who watched, was a little surprised to see him. But it didn’t seem a bad fit. The adults are in charge, my wife commented.
If Patraeus’s political stock rises in the next two years and I expect it will, he can thank the Democrats. Because Patraeus represents the return of the warrior scholar to public policy. Warrior-scholar is a way big improvement over Tommy Franks and Donald Rumsfeld or even General William Westmoreland and Defense Secretary Robert McNamara of the Vietnam War. It is an ancient concept but new to our period. And it was first brought to public service in our time by Wesley Clark when he ran for President in 2004.
I wrote about General Clark as a classic “warrior scholar” quite a bit around 2004 and the idea has now cross-cultured. Clearly the Democrats rejected the idea of a military general as POTUS although I felt then and still feel that he would have been the best man for the job in 2004. Jim Webb, the intriguing Democratic Senator and novelist from Virginia, is another warrior scholar and would have added some veritas and cajones to the unbearably lightness of being that characterizes the fledgling Obama administration.
There’s still time and it may retrieve a bad start for an administration showing as much early cohesion and grace as the Smashing Pumpkins. Does this Obama team with its Wall Street refugees and lace curtain tax cheats in funny glasses and Ivy League waifs and Harvard Law Review types have an aversion to warriors like Tammy Duckworth, Wes Clark, Jim Webb and Joe Sestak? Are they afraid of soldiers? Do they have a “veteran’s slot” where they put their token soldier over in the corner in a small office without a window?
Is this simply another “anti-war” crowd left over from the Vietnam era? And when they wheel out their “honored” veterans to the public on Memorial Day will it be another patronizing and pitiful pseudo-event contrived around that cheapest and most insidious, poisonous nihilist metaphor, the crippled and mentally deranged former soldier held together by wire and Prozac – loves his country but fears his government - as it was post Vietnam? And will there be another black flag flying under the Stars and Stripes in every town in America to mourn the loss of a another generation of soldiers? This is not about Vietnam. We did not lose this war.
The big media started to catch on to the warrior-scholar thing and maybe the army as well after Clark, a Rhodes Scholar, came into the public eye. The Clark model of warrior scholar in 2004 manifest in David Patraeus in 2007 when he took over as Commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq. Petraeus has a Ph.D. from Princeton. First mainstream press reports referred to him as a “warrior scholar.” Secretary Gates refers to him today as the “the preeminent soldier-scholar-statesman of his generation.”
It is a good thing as it will encourage others. The best among us should all be warrior scholars and President Obama should follow through on getting the dilettante blue-state universities, particularly those up here in the Northeast, who dropped ROTC in the ‘70s to reinstate it. Scholars have recently pointed out that most Iraq war soldiers and veterans including officers are from red states; Republican states. We have a red-state army and that is good for the heartland but bad – and obviously dangerous - for the country as a whole, nor will it be good for the Democrats in the long run.
And this might not be bad news for General Clark. Obama might think of spending some conspicuously public quality time with him, maybe at the Legion Hall. Enough with the reading Goodnight, Moon and Country Bunny at the day care centers. Leave that to Joe Biden.
War takes some getting used to and Clark presented a concept that the Democrats were not yet ready for. I felt they were in denial about the war in Iraq. I think they still are. Clark or National Security Advisor James L. Jones would have been a better pick for Vice President and would have set a theme for the Democrats. Democrats will now at one point get ready all of a sudden if General Petraeus’s star begins to rise.
The process of adjustment to difficult times should be respected as we pass through tough periods. And the adjustment from the giddy days of the Clinton high life to the terrible awakening of 9/11 took a major cultural adjustment. It is simply a fact of life that a healthy people don’t really want nor need great military commanders in times of peace.
It took Lincoln years to get the North acclimated to its avowed political commitment to fight after his election and it didn’t really start going in the direction he wanted until he found Ulysses S. Grant. Peacetime army does good work; it prepares to fight. But a peacetime army or administration is never ready to fight after a long period of peace when war abruptly happens.
The Tommy Franks army was not a bad army and Franks was not a bad General. Nor was Donald Rumsfled a bad Secretary of Defense before 9/11. As in the 1860s, the personnel changed once fighting evolved; the fighting brought forth the talent which the engagement demanded. Patraeus, by most standards, is considered a good commander, just as Robert C. Gates is, by most non-partisan standards, considered a good Secretary of Defense. These two men evolved with this natural process. The decision to advance both was made after hostilities were long underway.
There is still today an illusion that runs like a virus through the Democratic Party. It is that Democrats think they can substitute “healthy” things for the miserable, existential duties of war. It is transference. It avoids the difficult task by substituting an easy one, one irrelevant to the day. Today the Democrats see the war on Iraq much like they saw the war in Vietnam and they have responded to it much as they responded to that war. This, because they – under the aegis of Howard Dean most prominently – carried anti-war cultural attitudes over from the war in Vietnam direct to this war.
But the war in Iraq in no way resembles Vietnam. However well or badly it was initiated and fought, the war in Iraq happened because of attacks on the United States, which struck closer to the heart of America than even Pearl Harbor. Those attacks will never leave the hearts and minds and those who fought and managed the war including George W. Bush will not be forgotten. It is not in our human nature to forget these things.
I opposed the war from day one. I am a Buddhist and believed – understood – that there were and are other ways to neutralize and engage enemies and outsiders, but they take longer and require a greater engagement and a greater commitment of individual citizenship, particularly on the leadership level. That is why General Clark was so important in 2004; he fit the Buddhist paradigm. He understood that violence is sometimes necessary and would be necessary after 9/11, but that war is always the last resort. Simple denial or transference is no help at all and weakens the body politic. Clark also understood that once events unfolded, destiny would take over so it is most important to act at the beginning. In Iraq and in the area through to Afghanistan, destiny has taken over and now must be followed through on.
And incidentally, the concept of warrior-scholar as I found it and first wrote about it regarding Wesley Clark and Jim Webb came from a Taoist text honored by Buddhists, the “Tao te Ching”: Those of old who were good at being knight-scholars were subtle, were possessed of ineffable efficacy, and were in dark and mysterious confluence, so profound that they could not be perceived.
Ulysses S. Grant said of the Mexican War that it was a war of the strong against the weak, but anyone who did not participate in it would not take part in the dramatic future events ahead or any of the country’s future events.
Something General Patraeus might keep in mind. And this: All historical periods to date in the American condition ended with a General at the helm.