Tactically brilliant doesn’t always evolve into brilliant strategic military leadership.
From Abu Muqawama’s brilliant interview with author Greg Jaffe:
Petraeus is a very effective strategic leader. What bugs me is the narrative that he was somehow birthed atop Mount Olympus as the brilliant four star who saved the Army. In reality, his career is a bizarre departure from the norm. He does four tours at the elbow of top generals – Galvin (twice), Vuono and Shelton. He spends relatively little time in the field actually leading soldiers (especially compared to Casey). Petraeus’ career path doesn’t win him a lot of admirers among his peers, who whisper that he’s a palace general or a bit of a suck-up. But it makes Petraeus a much better general and probably a less adept battalion and brigade commander. This is a guy who starts preparing for a strategic leadership role as a captain. I don’t think Casey was as effective. But it is a huge mistake to write him off as not bright, intransigent, lazy or stuck in the Cold War as many in the COIN crowd tend to do. He is a smart person. He works incredibly hard. He was a great soldier and quite possibly a better battalion and brigade commander than Petraeus. So David and I tried really hard to understand why Casey makes the decisions that he makes. He is a product of these experiences that he has growing up in the Army.[AM]
Greg makes a very interesting point here. This blogger has always held a strong belief that tactically brilliant commanders may not eventually progress to be equally brilliant strategic leaders. While the defence services — not only in India but the world over — promote a tactically brilliant guy hoping that he’d deliver strategically as well, at times not-so-brilliant tactical commanders surprise people with their performance as strategic leaders.
In the Indian context, many would care to remember that Sam Manekshaw never commanded a battalion and his rise up till the rank of a Brigadier was a real struggle. And he remains independent India’s most successful, if not arguably the most brilliant, strategic military commander.