1. News & Issues
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

A Profile of Gen. David Petraeus


A Profile of Gen. David Petraeus
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Conservative Credentials:

Although it is difficult to know much about the politics of US Army Gen. David Howell Petraeus, it is safe to assume he is a conservative. In 2010, Petraeus was selected to receive the coveted Irving Kristol Award in 2010 by the American Enterprise Institute of Public Policy. Named in honor of the neoconservative of the same name, the award is given to conservatives who have made "notable intellectual or practical contributions to improved public policy and social welfare." Perhaps the most indelible evidence of his conservatism, however, is the liberal media's portrayal of him.

Early Life:

Petreaus was born in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York, the son of Miriam (Howell), a librarian, and Sixtus, a sea captain who emigrated to the U.S. from the Netherlands. From a very young age, Petraeus showed a desire to serve in the military. After graduating from Cornwall High School in 1970, he became a cadet at the West Point Military Academy, where he served with distinction, rising to the rank of "cadet captain" and graduating in the top five percent of the 1974 class. Just after graduation, Petraeus married Dickinson grad Holly Knowlton, daughter of then-West Point Superintendent Gen. William A. Knowlton.

Rank History:

After West Point, Petraeus was commissioned as an infantry officer and earned top honors as an Army Ranger. He was then assigned to a light infantry airborne battalion combat team in Italy and began to steadily rise through the ranks of mechanized infantry units. He earned second lieutenant in 1974, first lieutenant in 1976, captain in 1978, major in 1985, lieutenant colonel in 1991, colonel in 1995, brigadier general in 2000, major general in 2003 and lieutenant general in 2004. In January 2007, Petraeus was promoted to four-star general in 2007. As his rank increased, so did his education.

Post-Secondary Education:

Petraeus earned the General George C. Marshall Award from U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, where he graduated at the top of his class in 1983. In the early 1980s, he was given the opportunity to pursue the degree of his choice at the university of his choice. He enrolled at the School of International Affairs at Princeton University and earned a master's degree in 1985 and a Ph.D. in 1987. While working on his dissertation, Petraeus served as an assistant professor of International Relations at the U.S. Military Academy.

Military Honors:

As a senior military officer, Petraeus holds numerous service medals, including the Defense Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Clusters, the Defense Superior Service Medal with Oak Leaf Clusters, the Legion of Merit Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the NATO Meritorious Service Medal, and the State Department Superior Honor Award. He has also served as a senior command officer in a variety of military operations.

Military Operations:

Petraeus' first operation was "Operation Uphold Democracy" in Haiti in 1995, where he served as NATO's chief operations officer. From 1999 to 2000, he served as assistant division commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and commanding general of the combined joint task force in Kuwait. From 2001 to 2002, Petraeus was assistant chief of staff for operations in Bosnia and as deputy commander, United States Interagency Counter Terrorism Task Force. From 2002 to 2004, he served as commanding general, 101st Airborne Division in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2007, he became the NATO commander in Iraq.

NATO Commander (Iraq):

As command general of the Multi-National Force in Iraq, Petraeus gained notoriety as the architect of the Bush Administration's highly successful "surge" of 20,000 newly deployed U.S. troops to Iraq. Military brass have since called the strategy the "Petraeus Doctrine." In late 2007, Petraeus caused some controversy when he told Congress that U.S. involvement in Iraq could last for years, but most pundits expressed admiration for the honesty of his reports and for refusing to use "victory" or "defeat" to describe the effort. In September 2008, he relinquished command of NATO forces to General Raymond T. Odierno.

U.S. Central Commander:

In October 2008, Petraeus took the reins of the Florida-based U.S. Central Command. As USCENTCOM commander, Petraeus was primarily focused on Middle East issues, particularly Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. One of his major challenges, however, was improving international relations with Israel. Petraeus completely overhauled CENTCOM's approach to counter-terrorism, advocating for a more comprehensive approach that included counter-insurgency techniques and on-the-ground interaction with citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq and other war-torn nations.

NATO Commander (Afghanistan):

Following a 2010 Rolling Stone article in which NATO Commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal spoke unfavorably and insultingly about the Barack Obama administration, McChrystal was relieved of his duties. President Obama nominated Petraeus as the new commander, and on July 4, 2010, he assumed command of U.S. forces and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. The impact was immediate, with Patraeus issuing a command directive calling for the prohibition of strikes in the region if civilian casualties are identifiable or unknown. As with Iraq, Petraeus has focused the effort on local military cooperation.

Politics & Rumors of Presidential Aspirations:

During his tenure as CENTCOM commander in 2010, Petraeus unwittingly stoked rumors of a possible presidential bid when he appeared at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College to deliver remarks about Iraq and Afghanistan. The speech was given in recognition of the seventh anniversary of the Iraq invasion, but as the site of several presidential debates, the location prompted pundits to contemplate a Petraeus run. However, Petraeus put the rumors to bed almost immediately, saying he wasn't aware of the college's important political history, and that he will never run for political office.

Despite Petraeus' statement, numerous political conservatives have expressed a desire to see him run for president in 2012.

U.S. conservatives aren't the only ones to fantasize about a Petraeus presidency. In 2007, the British newspaper, The Telegraph named him the second-most influential conservative behind Rudy Giuliani and ahead of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. In response to Petraeus' inclusion on the list, Salon.com wrote a scathing piece accusing Petraeus of acting in a partisan fashion, but not including any actual instances of partisan behavior as a military officer (beyond choosing presumably conservative advisers).

For his part, Petraeus has largely shrugged off such talk, and noted he hasn't even voted since 2003, out of fear his superiors will see him as a partisan.

Military colleagues close to Petraeus have often said he has no interest in a political career, but it hasn't stopped speculation that he could surface as a Republican presidential or vice-presidential candidate. When presented with Petraeus' denials, these pundits will cite Gen. Colin Powell or Gen. Wesley Clark as other military personnel who had expressed similar sentiments.

Health Concerns:

In February 2009, Petraeus was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent successful treatment for the illness. His bout with the disease wasn't announced publicly until the fall of 2009, however, out of respect for his and his family's wishes, and their belief that it was a personal matter.

In June 2010, Petraeus collapsed during questioning from the Senate Armed Services Committee. He quickly regained consciousness and attributed the momentary attack to dehydration. After a half-hour break, he returned and finished his testimony.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.