Four-star general David Petraeus was a star on the battlefield, commanding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but his impeccable judgement failed him when he engaged in an extramarital affair with biographer Paula Broadwell that led to his downfall as CIA Director.
Celebrated as a scholar and a warrior, the 60-year-old Princeton graduate is admired as much for his intellect as he was his tactical ability and charisma on the battlefield.
Seen as one of the top American leaders of his generation, David Petraeus became known as an “A list” celebrity, is credited with pulling Iraq back from the brink of all-out civil war and had a career so stellar he once seemed on course for the US presidency.
After his revolutionary counter-insurgency tactics saved Iraq, David Petraeus oversaw battlefield success in Afghanistan commanding a surge of 30,000 troops ordered by President Barack Obama in late 2009.
“I don’t think he was professionally overrated. His were genuine accomplishments,” said James Carafano, a war historian with the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.
Senator John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential candidate and the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Friday that David Petraeus is one of “America’s greatest military heroes”.
“His inspirational leadership and his genius were directly responsible – after years of failure – for the success of the surge in Iraq,” John McCain said.
Indeed, as the U.S presidential campaign heated up in 2011, there was genuine talk of the war-hero running as part of a Republican ticket, potentially as vice-president.
The rumors continued up until August of this year, when the White House was forced to deny a report that President Barack Obama feared Mitt Romney stumping for the then CIA chief as his running mate.
In fact, at the time of his nomination to the CIA post, some Washington insiders had said the White House wanted to find a high-profile position for David Petraeus to ensure he would not be recruited by Republicans as a challenger to the 2012 Obama-Biden ticket.
However, ever the loyal soldier, David Petraeus repeatedly distanced himself from ambitions of elected office.
“I am not a politician, and I will never be, and I say that with absolute conviction,” David Petraeus said on NBC’s Meet the Press in August 2010.
When he was nominated to lead the CIA there were some concerns in intelligence circles that the high-profile four-star Army general might not be able to lead from the shadows as appropriate for a spy chief.
But once he took over the head office at the U.S. spy agency, David Petraeus kept a decidedly low public profile.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, expressed regret about the resignation of “one of America’s best and brightest” and said it was an “enormous loss” for the country.
“At CIA, Director Petraeus gave the agency leadership, stature, prestige and credibility both at home and abroad. On a personal level, I found his command of intelligence issues second to none,” Dianne Feinstein said.
After accepting his resignation about a year-and-a-half after nominating David Petraeus to the CIA post, Barack Obama said: “By any measure, he was one of the outstanding General officers of his generation, helping our military adapt to new challenges, and leading our men and women in uniform through a remarkable period of service in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he helped our nation put those wars on a path to a responsible end.”
In 2010, David Petraeus stepped into the breach as the new commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to replace General Stanley McChrystal who was fired by Obama in a scandal over an article in which McChrystal and his aides made mocking comments about the president and some of his top advisers.
In 2009, David Petraeus was diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer and underwent radiation treatment. The media-friendly general joked at that time at a Washington event that reporters were only gathered “to see if the guy is still alive”.
David Petraeus, born in Cornwall, New York, lives in Virginia with his wife Holly. They have two grown children, a son who was an Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan, and a daughter.
Known for his intensely competitive nature, David Petraeus graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1974, was the top of his 1983 class at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and went on to earn a doctorate in International Relations at Princeton in 1987.
His commands included the legendary 101st Airborne Division during the 2003 invasion of Iraq and during that campaign he quickly secured the north of the country around Mosul.
The soldier headed up the American efforts to train Iraqi security forces and eventually returned to the Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to write his counterinsurgency manual – which is now required reading.
From that point onwards he became the logical choice for President George W. Bush to lead his “surge” in January 2007 which allowed the United States to completely withdraw from Iraq four-years later.
David Petraeus’s wife, Holly, is an activist and volunteer who champions military families, and she continued that work after her husband retired from the military and moved to the CIA.
Holly Petraeus currently is assistant director of the office of service member affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where she tries to keep unscrupulous lenders from taking advantage of military personnel.
The bureau was championed by Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren, who was elected to the Senate from Massachusetts this week.
Holly Petraeus is the daughter of four-star General William Knowlton, who was superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point when Petraeus was a cadet.
She briefed the press at the Pentagon on her efforts recently and was introduced by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who called her “a true friend of the Department of Defense and a dedicated member of our military family”.
David Petraeus has four Defense Distinguished Service Medal awards, three Distinguished Service Medal awards, the Bronze Star Medal for valor, and the State Department Distinguished Service Award.