A Fifth Star for General Petraeus

On a cold December evening in 1783 at Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan, Gen. George Washington bade farewell to his staff and resigned his command of the Continental Army. One hundred ninety three years later, on America’s Bicentennial, Congress posthumously promoted Washington to five-star “General of the Armies of the United States.”

Washington led the Continental Army against the British for eight years, the longest tenure for a combatant (wartime) commander in our history to be awarded a fifth star. But David Petraeus, who begins his eighth year as a combatant commander (presently as theatre commander in Afghanistan), will soon eclipse Washington’s tenure. In appropriate recognition of his long and extraordinary wartime service, the new Congress should authorize a fifth star for Gen. Petraeus, thereby promoting him to “General of the Army”—just below Washington’s rank of “General of the Armies” (plural).

After George Washington, the only other five-star “General of the Armies of the United States” was John Pershing, who was promoted to the rank after commanding U.S. forces in World War I. The nine remaining five star generals in our history were branch-specific commanders during World War II: Gens. Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, George Marshall, Omar Bradley and Henry Arnold were each “General of the Army.” Navy Adms. Chester Nimitz, William Halsey, Ernest King and William Leahy served as five-star “Fleet Admirals.” Each of these officers received the honor during wartime, with the exception of Halsey, who was awarded the fifth star three months after World War II ended, and Bradley, who was awarded his fifth star in 1950.

Like these great leaders, Gen. Petraeus’s breath of experience and outstanding results deserve to be recognized and honored. His wartime tenure began as the Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division, responsible for over 10,000 combat troops during the initial invasion of Iraq. He led the 101st in an airborne assault into northern Iraq and then quieted the city of Mosul.

Gen. Petraeus then oversaw the creation and training of the new Iraqi Army, a Herculean task that was accomplished amid a rapidly deteriorating security situation. By the time he was through, he had stood up, equipped and trained over 100,000 Iraqi soldiers. They would be crucial in winning the peace in the years to follow.

In 2005, Gen. Petraeus led the Army’s command responsible for education and doctrine at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. There he wrote the Army’s manual on counterinsurgency operations. His COIN manual was the blueprint for the upcoming troop “surge,” which saved Iraq from the brink of calamity.

Gen. Petraeus left Fort Leavenworth in 2007 to take his new playbook to Iraq, where he became commander of coalition forces. He engineered one of the most stunning turnarounds in the history of modern warfare. Within 18 months, the general and his troops defeated al Qaeda in Anbar, ended a civil war in Baghdad, sealed porous borders with Iran and Syria, and created a sense of normalcy in Iraq.

After succeeding in the face of near-unanimous doubt, Gen. Petraeus was promoted to commander of Central Command in 2008, where he would oversee a two-front war in Iraq and Afghanistan. His tour at Centcom was cut short, however, when President Barack Obama asked him to replace the dismissed Gen. Stanley McCrystal in Afghanistan. It was a step down on the career ladder for Gen. Petraeus — but he was the president’s last hope to turn around Afghanistan. Demonstrating classic statesmanship, Gen. Petraeus relinquished his more prestigious post at Centcom.

The U.S. war against terrorism is now the longest war in U.S. history, and Gen. Petraeus has clearly distinguished himself as a leader worthy of joining the ranks of Gens. MacArthur, Marshall and Nimitz. A promotion would properly honor his service — and it would also honor the troops he leads and has led. Today’s soldiers have fought as valiantly as any in American history, and they deserve recognition of their leaders. Congressional approval of a fifth star would demonstrate the nation’s commitment to their mission.

David Petraeus is also a Soldier-statesmen who works with foreign diplomats and generals in hotspots across the globe. The prestige that would come with a fifth star would also likely help the U.S. in its negotiations with neighboring states — and show the enemies of freedom that we are fully committed to the war against terrorism.

It has been more than half a century since a U.S. general was awarded a fifth star. David Petraeus’s generalship has spanned 11 years, three presidents and seven Congresses. It is time to promote him to “General of the Army” and award him a fifth star. Our military deserves it, and he has certainly earned it.

(This op-ed originally appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal.)

— Pete Hegseth and Wade Zirkle, Veterans for Freedom

71 Comments on "A Fifth Star for General Petraeus"

  1. They want to put him in the white house.

  2. He has deserved his fifth star. Mr. President, Commander in Chief. Please promote this Solider.Gallantly he has showed the world that he is a specially selected and well trained solider.

  3. peter gonzales | January 13, 2011 at 9:58 am |

    Well, the general certainly has the credentials. History will be his final judge. As this promotion is in all reality one of great honor he deserves that at least. In a way he is much like General Bradley, a true soldiers general. Like Eisenhower he was able to keep the coalition together, like Marshall he is certainly a statesman. So why not honor him. There is no real argument to be made against it unless you feel jealousy for some other 4 star that you think should be equally honored and I cannot think of any at this time.

  4. Not a bad idea, Petraeus for POTUS 2012. Obama would have to bow out and plead no contest.

  5. A great soldier – just shows how valuable he is in the field. Taking the step down from Centcom to theater commander; and it must be hard to have to deal with tribal-chiefs and sheiks who are far more shiftier than the most crooked American politician you could think of. He should have got his fifth-star long ago for having to smile and hand out money to those turds.

  6. For a campaign that consisted mainly of dealing under the table with our tax money to keep various factions of a totally screwed up country from attacking us, maybe we should create a brand new rank of Generalissimo of the Treasury.
    This smacks too much of decorating a future presidential candidate to condition the American public to accept that we have to have a more knowledgeable commander in chief, especially if we're going to start all these endless and illegal wars based on lies. What's one more lie ?

  7. Defense Tech | January 13, 2011 at 11:14 am |

    Good catch, Army. We corrected the graphic. Thanks.

  8. I think that General Petraeus has earned his fifth star. He took his ideas turned Iraq around and when asked to give up a higher position for a lesser one so that maybe they can get this Afghanistan thing under control and so hopefully they will be able to pull out of this country soon. Like some of the other comments made; he is just a well rounded leader and has planed these events that soldiers on the ground had to carry out. General Petraeus has spent too much time trying to defend this country to not be honored by a fifth star.

  9. After losing Iraq to the Iranians and Afghanistan to the ISI it seems only appropriate that Patreus wears his 5 stars upside down.

    But no the Republicans will just have to run with Palin in 2012, what a gift to comedians that will be.

  10. the level of complexity and matching strategy and tactics does

  11. FormerDirtDart | January 13, 2011 at 11:46 am |

    Pershing was never a five-star "General of the Armies of the United States." Pershing wore 4 gold stars.
    Similarly, Washington has never been a "five-star General." The 1976 legislation and promotion orders never mention or suggest the five-star rank. Some have suggested that as the legislations intention is to firmly state that George Washington is the highest ranked soldier of the United States military, past or present, that his rank is more equivalent to the six-star "General of the Armies" put forward, but never adopted, for MacArthur at the end of WWII.

  12. George Gauthier | January 13, 2011 at 11:48 am |

    Sorrry, but the five star rank in WW II was reserved for the very highest echelon. Even generals in command of army groups like Bradley and Devers did not get that rank. The forces General Petraeus commands amount to a corps at best.

  13. armyhistorian | January 13, 2011 at 11:57 am |

    No. The Army had 8.3 million soldiers at the end of World War II – today's numbers and size of the conflict don't justify the rank.

    By the way, the rank is upside down in the graphic.

  14. Under our current system of armed forces, there are at least 3 other officers that Petraeus has to call "sir" by virtue of his current assignment. Regardless of sentiment, he can't outrank them.

  15. Poor logic. Wsahington was 5 stars because it was an honor to him. The others were 5 stars due to a war of multinational forces who had 4 stars. Those otheres needed 5 in order to retain command.

    Rank is not a reward like a medal or for long service. you don't get it just because you survived long enough…well…maybe you do ;-)

    Still if the Army wants to…fine, but do it for better reasons then these.

  16. The 5th Star is about bringing rank parity between US general and allied forces whom have officers of equiv rank, its generally not a honorarium. Generally speaking the 6th Star is the honorarium rank, thats the Rank of Washington and Blackjack Pershing.

    If you want to honor the man, give what he needs to win the war and don't bring him into politics. He's too good of a man to sully with that nonsense.

  17. If he were to receive the 5th star it would more likely be his retirement rank, as it was with Halsey.

    From a practical standpoint, having a 5-star in the field while Gen. Cassey sits on the Joint Chiefs with 4 is pretty unlikely. You gotta remember that as ISAF/USFOR-A commander he's technically lower in the chain of command than when he commanded CENTCOM.

  18. Rusten Currie | January 13, 2011 at 12:50 pm |

    The most obvious reason why he won't get it is simply because it is not warranted. His service and value to America's Army is beyond question. However as previously stated, the numbers and intensity of this conflict despite its duration do not warrant such a promotion. Aside from the fact that the CoS Army, cannot be outranked by a subordinate, the military simply doesn't work that way. I do think that a senior rank or a differet title would be appropriate, such as Field Marshall, yes quite Germanic, but…

  19. Just because someone has been a general for 11 years does not mean that he should be given a fifth star. I do not know the exact date but would venture a very educated guess that ADM Mullen was promoted to RADM in about 1993. That would mean that he has been a flag officer for over 17 years. No one is clamoring for his promotion to Fleet Admiral. And remember, Gen. Patreus is junior to Adm. Mullen by at least two slots. No, being the commander of CENTCOM and then stepping down to bail out the President in Afghanistan is not deserving of a fifth star.

  20. chaos0xomega | January 13, 2011 at 1:25 pm |

    I have to agree. I have nothing but respect for General Petraeus, and would love to see the 5 star ranks reinstated, but I don't think the circumstances call for it being awarded to him. I don't want to say it, but for lack of a better phrase, he doesn't deserve it.

  21. Don't forget about 5-Star-ish Admiral of the Navy George Dewey.

  22. Point and match, well put

  23. I think he deserves to be promoted to the rank of a five-star general;his records are incredible and is worthy of emulation.Kudos!!! to you,Sir.

  24. …county sheriffs & chiefs-of-police all across America are now routinely displaying a rank of 4-Gold-Stars — so real military Generals should at least have 5-Stars or more.

    {..or perhaps cops shouldn’t be sporting military Flag-rank at all ??}

  25. Defense Tech: Henry Arnold was also General of the Air Force. That is a five star rank. You may want to include that.

  26. If the US had a proper honours system, you wouldn’t have the problem of having to dish out military ranks, or diplomatic posts, in order to recognize an individual’s achievements.

    In the UK there are (I think) six orders of knights. Across the six orders, excluding Royal Knights, there are eleven attainable ranks of knighthood, ranging from the humble ‘Knight Commander of The Most Excellent Order of The British Empire (KBE), to the grand ‘Knight of The Most Noble Order of The Garter’ (KG).

  27. I dunno, I think this whole 5-star business should have been put off until we know how Afghanistan turns out. It's like declaring victory prematurely.

  28. But who will take his place he is the best of the best all of the other good generals have bailed. Give it to him but for the right reasons not for the president to get another photo opt.

  29. He's done a good job but doesn't deserve to be a 5 star, he doesn't come close to any of the previous 5 stars, but todays military hands out awards like they're goin outta style.

  30. Raymond P Gallagher | January 13, 2011 at 2:54 pm |

    Many of the reasons NOT to award the rank stated by earlier postings are very compelling and correct. Size of force commanded, overseeing the bribing of foreign personnel, type of warfare being conducted….WWII almost 4 years, multiple battlefronts vs a sand box.

    BUT…..I might be inclined to agree if we saw results.

    How about Osama Bin Ladens head on a plate before a star is given out. Adolph Hitler did not last as long as this six foot plus target with a regular need for dialysis has. What is taking so long? Saudi Arabia still calling the shots?

  31. Retread Sarge | January 13, 2011 at 3:04 pm |

    I didn't know we had "won" in Iraq…they look about as stable as Afghanistan right now and we sure as hell haven't won over there and will never get out the way things are looking now.

  32. To compare Petraeus to Ike, Bradley, MacArthur, or Marshall is ridiculous. If not Swartrzkoff, Franks, or Powell, then certainly not someone who basically bought off his worst enemies (Sunni tribes in Iraq) and we haven't seen anything in Afghanistan resemble complete victory as we saw from WWII. We may very well never see a clear-cut victory over Muslim extremist/terrorists – and while that may not put Petraeus in the same category as Westmoreland or Abrams (from Vietnam), this outcome in Iraq/Afghanistan doesn't exactly stack up as worthy of 5 stars either. Maybe we should posthumously give a 5th star to George Patton and Mark Clark (WWII) and Matthew Ridgeway (Korea) as well if Petraeus gets one.

  33. OK, I know this is knit-picky, but this single sentence destroys any credibility for the argument that might have otherwise been present in the article. "Like these great leaders, Gen. Petraeus’s breath of experience and outstanding results deserve to be recognized and honored." A person has "breadth" of experience, not "breath".

    Also, as someone else has already pointed out, Pershing never wore 5 stars, he wore 4 gold stars. Though his title, as well as Washington's "General of the Armies" technically outranks the "General of the Army" 5 stars, making them equivalent to a 6-star general, as was Dewey as the "Admiral of the Navy".

  34. hed do a petter job president than Obama

  35. Oblat is just here to make comments to get the rest of our panties in a bunch. I'm not sure if he really believes what he says, but regardless, the aim of his comments is clearly troll bait and not legit debate.

    Though personally, if Palin gets a nomination nod, the Republicans are in trouble.

  36. The General maybe deserving but not now. Should they decided to have a five star general that star should be given to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Then when they replace General Mullen his replacement should be promoted to five star and all Chairman after that.

  37. I would love to see this happen. Having served under him during my time in Iraq, I would love to see his abilities rewarded with a 5th star. We went through numerous commanders before he came along and actually got things done.

  38. ……..I love all ya'll shit suckers here who have decided to tell everyone "this isn't war!"

    Bet its a war to the men fighting and dying in it.

    Whether he deserves 5 stars-note he probably doesnt give a shit-or not isn't my call to make. Is he a good general? Seems like it. Let the military decide.

    But please dont act like this isnt a real war. It is its more complex politicaly, militarily and culturaly than most wars we've been in.

  39. The last time I checked, the military had two very distinct kinds of insignia:

    There are medals, badges, patches, and so forth, that signify deeds accomplished and honors earned.

    Then there are the insignia of rank, that signify responsibilities and duties assigned, and authority delegated by the government.

    The general's stars are insignia of rank, granting the soldier so recognized certain authority, along with certain responsibilities.

    This article is something of a travesty, portraying the duties demanded of a of a five-star general as if they were a prize already earned.

    If the nation has need of a commander of such a rank, to take on responsibilities and exercise authority beyond that granted to a four-star general, then by all means let us consider all the worth candidates for such a grave task.

    If, on the other hand, we desire to recognize Petraeus's outstanding service, I'm sure there are suitable awards that can be bestowed, without turning insignia of rank into a door prize.

  40. Irrelevant, so was Reagan.

    Patreus's primarily loyalty has always been to whoever can advance his career.

  41. He may be good, but he's not that good. If this thing in SWA is won, then I might think he would be worthy once he is retired, but not on Active Duty.

  42. "Rank is not a reward like a medal or for long service. you don't get it just because you survived long enough"

    Excellent point, Jack.

  43. I have immense respect for General Petraeus … but this is the dumbest suggestion I've seen lately. Promotion is based on two criteria … demonstrated ability … and a billet that needs filling. It is not an award. THE question here should be whether the United States NEEDS a 5-star billet … and, IMHO, the answer is clearly no.

  44. JamesFetterman | January 14, 2011 at 9:31 am |

    General Petraeus has been a successful general officer, but I agree with many that a Fifth Star is not approrpiate. I do think he should be rewarded, and that is why the military has medals for commendation and for bravery. He should be awarded an appropriate commendation type medal that reflects his accomplishments. I really do get tired of Congress wasting our money and time doing things like promoting dead heros.

  45. It certainly is something to consider. He has wisdom intelligence and leadership and ability to see the whole picture from all angles (as far as I can tell) Size him up with any other presedential candidates. he'd be a good president.

  46. Another criminal with no honor or integrity as a human being, working for the criminal US gov mafia. Petraeus should have resigned long ago. Same for all military and other US gov personnel. The US gov mafia is little more than a thieving corporate imperialist enterprise. Petraeus is smart enough to know exactly who and what he's working for. He has forever condemned himself. And so have you in participating and not condemning and sabotaging this criminal racket.

  47. An admirer of Patraeus here, but doesn't he command something around the size of what's basically a field army? Kinda small for a 5 star I should think. Not taking anything away from the man but 5 stars??? I don't really think it makes sense.

  48. This is a different war then WW2 never forget tht almost 3000 Americians were killed on 9/11, the largest lose of life in our country EVER, so comparing his actions to those great generals of WW2 is like comparing the guy who invented the light buld to the people who worked on the A-bomb, there is no room for comparision. Who says that he can not become the next COS when he finishes his job in the stan. As for running for POTUS, I do not think he would do that, guys like him are great generals, not good pols.

  49. Janar Wasito | January 15, 2011 at 11:37 am |

    according to the logic in the article, Gen Jim Mattis, USMC, who is Petraeus' boss now, should pin on his 5th star ahead of Petraeus. Mattis was a 1-star general when he lead the first Marines into Afghanistan to Camp Rhino, vicinity Kandahar, in late 2001.

  50. Matt Holzmann | January 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm |

    Petraeus developed the Army's COIN manual at Leavenworth based upon his experience in Mosul. The follow on commander had other ideas which changed the picture considerably. This is a recurring and serious theme in the history of both Iraq and Afghanistan and is a part of the problem set for each theater over the course of 9 years of conflict.

    Petraeus was then allowed to implement his ideas in on a theater level in Iraq, which became known as the Surge, over the objections of Rumsfeld and the JCS. He created a new theory and then implemented and for all intents and purposes, it worked. In some ways, it would equivalent to Mahan commanding the Atlantic Fleet in combat. It is a rare combination to find a theoretician and superior battlefield commander in one man.

    He has a hell of a resume is all I'm saying. We can yap all we want but the issue of rank rests with the Pentagon, whose mystery is only exceeded by its power….

  51. No way. His generalship in 2 peacetime half-wars does not match up to the theater commanders of WW2. The article is a complete snow job, you get dumber just reading it. Comparing him to George Washington is a travesty. But with today's love for celebrities, he might just get it.

  52. Need to fix the graphic when sharing this article. It is upside down in Facebook.

  53. HE DOES NOT DESERVE A FIFTH STAR. SINCE WHEN DO WE PROMOTE LEADERS THAT CANNOT FOLLOW ORDERS OR KEEP HIS MOUTH SHUT. MACARTHUR WAS RELIVED OF COMMAND AND SO SHOULD HAVE PETREAUS.

  54. The term is 'breadth of experience', please. Not "breath of experience."

  55. While I agree General Petreaus is is an accomplished soldier who has served his country with honor and distinction – a promotion to 5 star is not warrented at this time. Our nation has simply not been in the kind of global conflicts (or one where our national survival was at stake) that the other 5-star generals have/had been through (the scale isn't even close).

  56. Victory against the Taliban and then I say it’s been earned.

  57. For those who attempt to compare today's war with the numbers of troops we
    had in WWII, get real. With today's force multiplying weapons, we may never
    have millions of people in combat again. It just doesn't take 10 B-17s, 10b0
    crewmen, and hundreds of dumb bombs to disable an airplane factory anymore.
    One B-2 can get the job done. And how different would the Battle of the Bulge
    been with a few dozen MK-19s. The awkwardness of having a combat general
    outranking the CoS is valid, though.

  58. I could not agree more with this article (except there has only been 2 presidents in his war not 3). He has more then earned a fifth star.

  59. He really deserves the promotion!!!

  60. MSG Richard R Lorenz | February 28, 2011 at 11:23 pm |

    No doubt, he earned it and deserves it. Who cares if the numbers are right-Army. He did the job. That was his job, but he went way above the call of duty. He deserves to be a 5 star.

  61. john kovacich | April 3, 2011 at 11:41 pm |

    maybe they should compromise and give him 4 1/2 stars!!

  62. For those of you who compare Gen. Petreaus favorably with our WWII commanders I suggest you read a little history of them. Petreaus has never held a combat command below a division. The so-called surge was an idea that came from Bush. Petreaus merely executed it by requesting reinforcements and spending big bucks to bride the Sunni tribal leaders to our side. We didn't win the war in Iraq, we just started pulling out and saying we won it. Look what's happening there now and has happened since we left. Now we are pulling out of Afghanistan and will soon we saying we won there too. I can see no reason we should even be suggesting that Petreaus should be given a fifth star. He is a pure politician!

  63. Let me say this, I served under General Petraeus in Iraq for a short time before he was replaced by General Odierno. The rules of engagement, tactics we used, and overall combat effectiveness dramatically changed after he left, and in small certain ways it was better, but in the overall picture it screwed us over as the troops on the ground. Limiting us to what we could do to engage the enemy.

  64. Chad... again | July 27, 2011 at 11:42 pm |

    When he took over CENTCOm he took over an overwhelming task of both wars, and even though Iraq was winding down, their was and still is troops lives on the line. When he took command of ISAF he took on an even harder job of commanding a war in an environment that goes from desertlike conditions to Mountains, to marshlands. He did a great job while he was in command, surging more troops in and helping to bring Al Qaeda to its knees. Now the wars are not over, but they have been drawn down and have been hurt badly. General Petraues is an outstanding leader who I respect deeply and along with General Mattis I consider one of our last fighting generals such as Schwarzkopf, Abrams, Ridgeway, Patton, and Jackson.

  65. There will never again be great generals and admirals like those who earned five stars in World War II (and those who deserved a fifth but never got it, namely Patton, Spruance, and Mitscher). They're in a class all by themselves, and no one has since equalled them. Petraeus is a fine commander, absolutely, but four stars is enough.

  66. Colonel C.E. Rogers | January 1, 2012 at 7:27 am |

    TO: Janar Wasito; According to the Military Rules of Rank Structure, Gen. Jim Mathis, USMC can not be promoted to the Fifth Star Rank unless first, there is a U.S. Navy Admiral promoted to the Fifth Star Rank of Fleet Admiral. The reason is the Marine Corps is not a Branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, they are listed as a Divison of the U.S. Navy and thus, there can not be a Superior Officer from the Marines to Command the entire U.S. Navy.

  67. he saved countless lives with his manual and almost singlehandly dragged organised warfare into the 21st century ,im from ireland but have watched from afar with awe and respect of his achievements and reverence ,definately deserves the fifth star

  68. Merle Berens | July 7, 2012 at 10:18 am |

    Give General David Howell Petraeus his fifth star. He deserves it!

  69. Gen. Petraeus does not deserve this rank because of dishonestly of the highest degree. Dishonesty to God and his wife and family.

  70. Dude are you serious. Your about stupid and i guess no one else will say it. You have nothing to back up your statement. I have personally talked to him and trust me on this. It would be a tremendous honor to him. He deserves it if not more than the rest. He hasnt quit the rest have gave up or relinquished command, he hasn't. He just keeps driving on. It's what he does.

  71. It is with respect for the Armed Forces that I make this comment. To put Gen. Petraeus in the same catagorey as the other 5 star Generals is an insult to the great men who fought in WWII. He doesn't come close. Too many people have died who witnessed their bravery and courage. Gen. Petraeus is not one of these heroes.

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