Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

General Petraeus writes

And talks, too. Last night Central Command posted another letter to the troops from Petraeus. I didn’t see any particular news in it, but it struck me that one of the keys to Petraeus’s success as a wartime commander has been his ability to communicate his intent to the rank and file. It was striking ...

590881_090102_petraeus2.jpg
590881_090102_petraeus2.jpg

And talks, too. Last night Central Command posted another letter to the troops from Petraeus. I didn't see any particular news in it, but it struck me that one of the keys to Petraeus's success as a wartime commander has been his ability to communicate his intent to the rank and file. It was striking to me in Iraq last year that everyone from division commanders to new platoon leaders was down with the counterinsurgency program (pdf), and specifically making protection of the people the top priority. (That was one reason that the Blackwater shootup of 17 civilians in September 2007 caused such a fuss -- it was so clearly at odds with the new way the surging U.S. military was trying to operate.)

Anyway, Petraeus's letter reminded me of something I've been reading about lately, that eloquence generally was a requirement for the generals of ancient Greece and Rome. It was notable when a commander was inarticulate -- the opposite of today's American generals, Petraeus (and Marine Gen. James Mattis) excepted.

Photo of General Petraeus, December 2008, via DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images

And talks, too. Last night Central Command posted another letter to the troops from Petraeus. I didn’t see any particular news in it, but it struck me that one of the keys to Petraeus’s success as a wartime commander has been his ability to communicate his intent to the rank and file. It was striking to me in Iraq last year that everyone from division commanders to new platoon leaders was down with the counterinsurgency program (pdf), and specifically making protection of the people the top priority. (That was one reason that the Blackwater shootup of 17 civilians in September 2007 caused such a fuss — it was so clearly at odds with the new way the surging U.S. military was trying to operate.)

Anyway, Petraeus’s letter reminded me of something I’ve been reading about lately, that eloquence generally was a requirement for the generals of ancient Greece and Rome. It was notable when a commander was inarticulate — the opposite of today’s American generals, Petraeus (and Marine Gen. James Mattis) excepted.

Photo of General Petraeus, December 2008, via DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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