I retired a long way from general ranks. Once I thought I could get close and once I was even picked for rapid progression which might lead to a bright future. But I've always said what I thought and when I was younger, I did it without prompting and often in indelicate language. At first that served me well, but when more mature behavior was in order the old habits didn't die easily. I wasn't close to making general.
But along the way, my checkered path intersected many general officers. Some of them I met on their way up and some I met when they had donned the rank. As in all professions there were some that were outstanding and some that were buffoons. Some were the sort of leaders that you would follow to the gates of hell and sacrifice everything to avoid them failing. Others were butt-kissers who paid no attention to their subordinates and engaged in brutal cut-throat politics among their peers and competitors to get ahead.
Along the way I worked for guys like Jack Chain who became CINCSAC, but was a fighter pilot to his very core. I went on his wing to Hanoi and he flew mine once or twice. I doubt that he changed very much on his way to four stars.
I was an Ops Officer under Chuck Donnelly when he was a wing commander and was awed at the way he handled his wing. While other wing commanders had chewed, yelled, intimidated and embarrassed, when Chuck was in command he instilled a feeling in his troops that they could do the job and when you stumbled in the process you felt that you had let the boss down. He made four stars and some say he changed. I saw him when he had two and he still looked the same to me.
I followed the path of Bear Chambers when he was a Captain in F-105s and then worked for him when he was Wing Commander in the AT-38 Fighter-Lead-In Program at Holloman. He was a prince of a guy. He was at a reunion two years ago and although he made three stars he was still a solid fighter pilot that I'd go to war with in a minute.
Tony McPeake wasn't called Merrill when he was a Captain at Nellis. He was known as a good stick and regular guy. Somewhere along his way to Chief of Staff, he sold his soul. I'm sure there is someone who was in the AF during his tenure that thought well of him, but I can't say I've ever met one.
I could go on, but you get the idea. Some generals remained good guys and some fell victim to the quest for power at the expense of their common sense and ethical foundation. Guys like Joe Ralston and Ron Fogleman are on my short list of greats. Even guys like my one-time nemesis, Mike Carns, have my grudging respect for their efforts and achievements.
But now I've got this McChrystal and Petraeus soap opera to ponder.
McChrystal seems respected and admired by a lot of Army folks and some purple suit guys as well. No question that he's talented, dedicated and willing to get mud on his boots. How then do you account for the interview?
General officers are, if nothing else, discrete. It was indiscrete to invite Rolling Stone magazine into his staff meetings. It was foolish to imply some of the derogatory things which he said, even if he believes them to his core. It was beyond irresponsible to surround himself with a selected staff which acted like a bunch of towel-snapping high-school football players cavorting in a locker room after a winning game. That sort of thing does not happen at the four-star level, even in a combat zone. Or at least it shouldn't.
Did he want out? Was it intentional? Had he analyzed the situation and determined that his best result was something unconventional like this? He is the master of unconventional warfare, after all.
Then there is Petraeus. What is he thinking? The record of the trashings which this administration has heaped upon him is long and sordid. Biden, Clinton, Pelosi, Reid, and an incredibly long list of others have all expressed disagreement, distrust, and distaste for him. He has four stars already and a long career completed. He has a bright future available as valued board member or director in dozens of defense industries. He has been touted as a potential top level political candidate in 2012. He could write a great book and make big bucks on the rubber-chicken circuit. He doesn't have to take this abuse.
More importantly, Petraeus could make a huge statement by declining the "opportunity" and resigning. I'd pay to see it!