In the Arena

Is the Pentagon Anti-Petraeus?

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Small Wars Journal and assorted military bloggers are reporting that H.R. McMaster, one of the smartest and most creative colonels in the U.S. Army, has been passed over for promotion to brigadier general–a second time, I’m told by friends of the colonel. McMaster, who wrote an excellent book about the U.S. Army’s failure in Vietnam, was a Bush poster boy two years ago, when he used counterinsurgency tactics to (briefly) clean out Tal Afar in northern Iraq.

So why no promotion? First, it should be said that military boards work in mysterious ways–and fine generals have been passed over once, but rarely twice, before getting their star. Second, I’m told that there’s a certain amount of wariness about high-profile, hotshot colonels like McMaster. (Some of the best military gossip I’ve found involves generals slagging know-it-all colonels, and vice versa).

But I’m also wondering about this: McMaster was, and is, a protegee of General David Petraeus–who is considered something of a hotshot himself by many of his peers in the Pentagon (and is resented by his Iraq predecessor, General George Casey, among others). McMaster is also a prosyltizer for, and was involved in the writing of, Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy…which isn’t very popular in some quarters of the Pentagon, either, especially now that the Iraq surge is putting so much pressure on the Generals’ belover all-volunteer Army. So I wonder: Was this some sort of message being sent? If so, it seems an incredibly stupid one. We need more generals like H.R. McMaster.

Update: A good point from reader DannyK…

Another theory: McMaster is best known for his book “Dereliction of Duty”, which argued that Vietnam-era generals had let the country down by playing along when the politicians micro-managed the war.
Presumably, he wouldn’t be one of those pliable generals. I suspect that’s why he’s not getting that star.

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