“Eisenhower of our generation” visits Columbia

Some guy who needs a haircut, the general in mufti, and our senior senator./photo by Christy Cox

Gen. David Petraeus, now of the CIA, spoke today in Columbia, at the Riley Institute’s David Wilkins Awards for Excellence in Legislative and Civic Leadership luncheon.

Rep. James Smith and former Blue Cross CEO Ed Sellers were the recipients. It was James (a.k.a. Capt. Smith) who, in his acceptance speech, called Petraeus “the Eisenhower of our generation.” I concur. There’s no general officer in recent years who combines Ike’s strategic vision, diplomatic skill and leadership qualities to the extent that Gen. Petraeus does.

For his part, Petraeus praised not only James and Ed, but the troops he has felt privileged to lead before joining Central Intelligence. He called them “our new greatest generation.”

Those who serve certainly deserve that sobriquet. The difference is that they are only a tiny sliver of an actual generation, unlike the one that overcame the Depression and beat Hitler and Tojo.

Which only underlines how much the rest of us owe to them, each of them, from the commanding general to the lowliest buck private.

21 thoughts on ““Eisenhower of our generation” visits Columbia

  1. Kevin

    Great photo. “Suitable for framing.”

    During this election season, I can’t help but think about extending the Eisenhower metaphor. If my history is correct, Ike was the only president to be drafted into the race.

    So can we dump Mitt and Newt and just draft David Petraeus? We can certainly dream of the possibility…

  2. j

    My political consciousness began in the early 50s and I remember seeing Ike in a parade down Main Street when he visited Columbia when he ran for Pres. Petraeus is no Ike. He lacks the courage to stand against the Military Industrial Complex and he was for escalating a war that should have never been conducted. He commanded the Irag War from CENTCOM in Tampa, FL. He later led the Afgan War for one year and one week. My older son serves in the US Army and is now in Afghanistan. My hope is for all our troops and that they will return safely to their families and friends.

  3. Phillip

    The comparison seems apt. If the US and the West in general ever faced an existential/military threat on a scale such as that which Eisenhower (and the “Greatest Generation”) took on, I would hope that we would have somebody of Petraeus’ caliber leading our military.

  4. bud

    I know about Ike through history books. Ike was a true humanitarian and realist. Maybe Petraeus will will eventually reach that level of achievement but right now he is just the face of a surge policy that I found distasteful at the time and it’s now pretty apparent that it had little if any long term success.

    If Petraeus wants to win me and other anti-war pragmatists over he needs to propose actions that help people through peaceful, diplomatic means. He also needs to acknowledge the limitations of military actions and propose policies that will reduce our military footprint. Ike sealed his legacy by doing just that. Sorry David, you’re no Dwight Eisenhower. At least not yet.

  5. Doug Ross

    And they gave a comparable award to one of those horrible CEO’s of an insurance company? A guy who earned a big salary for running a successful business? Oh the humanity!

  6. Herb Brasher

    Not for sure it is good to put down Petraeus for doing his job as a soldier. He doesn’t have much choice in doing that. OK, he can engage to some degree in cross-cultural training of military members in relating to the civilian population, but my understanding is that he has done that. Eisenhower the general in WWII had to do certain things whether he wanted to or not. (I’m sure he would have loved to have fired Montgomery, among others, at times.)

    I think that when we compare Petraeus as a military man with Eisenhower the civilian leader, we are comparing apples with oranges. We don’t really yet know how Petraeus would function as a civilian leader, though I admit that he might be a good choice to take a risk on.

  7. Brad

    Burl, the lady in the picture is Suzan Boyd. She’s married to Ed Sellers, one of the honorees. Dr. Boyd (a Ph.D.) is also former executive director of The South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

    She and Ed were honored jointly by the local United Way as Humanitarians of the Year in 2007.

  8. Herb Brasher

    Sorry, I missed a cog. Mind is elsewhere this morning. Of course the administration has already taken a risk with Petraeus.

  9. Brad

    Perhaps I should have elaborated on the Eisenhower comparison.

    I thought it apt because of the similarities of their roles — not in scale, but in substance.

    Ike was mainly known for his people skills. He was not a proven warrior — had never led troops in combat. His skills were in keeping the Allies working together, in spite of having to deal with such outsized personalities as Churchill, DeGaulle, Montgomery and Patton (Patton, at least, was his subordinate).

    It was noted yesterday how much Petraeus knew about the history and tribal culture of Iraq, and how skillfully he earned the trust of Shi’a, Sunni and Kurd.

    Petraeus had the additional problem of managing the political situation at home. Ike had the enviable position of being left alone, by modern standards. Can you imagine such a titanic decision as when to go on the Normandy invasion being made by the theater commander, rather than in Washington, today? Marshall was his boss, and FDR was Marshall’s boss, but Ike was left alone to call the shots.

    Petraeus had to manage conflicting expectations among the political leadership, making high-stakes appearances before a divided Congress, not to mention the day-to-day hassles.

    Doing all that takes political skills that are reminiscent of Eisenhower.

    The Surge was no Normandy (which involved a million men, with 175,000 put on the beaches the first day), but it was a plan that Petraeus owned much as Ike owned the larger enterprise. His name will be forever linked to it. That’s another similarity.

  10. Karen McLeod

    Brad, I agree. I don’t agree with the war he generaled. But since it was a fact, he did his job as a soldier, and should be honored as such.

  11. j

    To any degree that the surged worked, it was the off the radar buying of the tribal chieftains with millions of $s that lead to the reduction in violence that was attributed to the surge.

  12. bud

    Where were we 4 years after landing in Normandy? Compare that to our situation 4 years after the so-called “successful” surge. We’re gone from Iraq but the carnage continues. Not that Petraeus is really to blame. He is after all a soldier carrying out the wishes of his bosses. But really to compare his to Dwight Eisenhower is Pattonly ridculous.

  13. Brad

    Oh, and j — Ike managed the war initially from London, and later from Versailles (then, in the last week or so of the war, in Frankfurt). That was the job, and where he was supposed to be.

    Petraeus, by the way, had served as a lower-level commander in Iraq before being given overall command. He had distinguished himself in that role, which is why he was elevated. He had literally written the book on counterinsurgency, so Bush finally decided to put someone who knew what to do in charge.

  14. Steve Gordy

    It’s not useful to compare Eisenhower and Petraeus. Two capable generals, two very different situations. Although it the GOP wants to put Petraeus up as a candidate, it might be a very smart move and very bad news for some aspiring young politicos.

  15. j

    Counterinsurgency? What are a people going to do when their country is occupied by a foreign force? If the US were to be occupied by a foreign power, I guess the occupiers would call us and our opposition counter-insurgents but we’d call them patriots. We supported the dictator in Iraq when they were fighting the Iranians and the Taliban in Afghanistan when they were fighting the Russians. It seems like our former allies turned against us when we invaded them for no valid reason. The kind of wars we have pursued in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t at all like WWII. It seems like the “Special Forces” could have taken care of both situations if we had been smarter or objectively pursued the real enemy. I wonder if Bush “really read” the commander’s book or was looking to continue the war to insure his re-election! I think the only book he read was “My Pet Goat.”


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