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Petraeus: Lessons learned

America has been at war for 10 years in two of the cruelest theaters of combat in modern warfare. Troops face unprecedented tours of duty and extended deployments beyond human endurance and sound military practice.

They battle an enemy whose goal is to kill millions of Americans by destroying cities through nuclear terrorism. They serve a nation in which 1 percent of our people bear 100 percent of the sacrifice.

{mosads}During the height of the Iraq war, the Marine Corps pathologist suggested that up to 70 percent of American casualties were preventable. In those days, while lobbyists fought valiantly for tax cuts for the highest incomes, our troops fighting valiantly to defend us were not given adequate body armor and Humvees. Official Washington did not know, did not care or did not believe we could afford them.

And then, a short limousine ride from the centers of power in Washington, there was an outrageous scandal at the Walter Reed medical center. Even now, in June 2012, Marine Corps Times reported that 25 percent of the deaths of those killed in action might have been medically preventable. And so:

Let’s give a standing ovation to men and women who serve, to families who stand behind them at home, to the medics who treat the wounded under fire, as my father did at Bastogne, to volunteers who give so generously of their time and to those who make charitable donations to the great groups that serve those who serve, who merit our generosity even more as holidays approach. Let’s give a standing ovation again to the Bidens, McCains, Palins, Huntsmans and all families whose sons and daughters answer the call of duty, honor and country.

Regarding Gen. David Petraeus in the early stages of the Iraq war, I was not a big fan of his. I was wrong. I acknowledged this long ago. His contributions of intellect, valor, military strategy and leadership performed indescribable services to our country, which I hope President Obama, who has been wise in his conduct as commander in chief, will call upon again.

In our cult of celebrity, we build these men up as idols and then tear them down as fools when in fact they are human beings with the valor, fears, insecurities, ambitions, imperfections and aspirations that are common to us all, but magnified by hard and blood-stained years of combat, courage and command.

As the media herd hunts for salacious emails and smoking guns of innuendo and passion, I would suggest that 95 percent of what has been reported is unworthy of being reported as “news.” This reveals much about our shortcomings as a culture, nothing about Petraeus’s greatness as a general, and dismally fails to further the long-overdue national discussion our country urgently needs about treating post-war trauma, reducing military suicides, expanding military medical research, helping homeless vets, providing bonus payments for highly stressed troops enduring hardship conditions of extended deployment, and the need for the nation to make a collective decision to accept the consequences of war, and share the sacrifices of war, before the clamor for the next war.

Thank goodness we did not read private emails of FDR as he rallied the nation after Pearl Harbor, Eisenhower as he planned the invasion of Normandy and Kennedy as he navigated the nation to safety during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Let’s pay profound respect to Holly Petraeus, who does honor to the special role of the wives (and now husbands) of generals and admirals, ensigns and privates.

It does no service to drag salacious facts and prurient gossip through the mud. It would be far nobler for our nation to direct our attention to supporting the extraordinary work of Mrs. Petraeus and all those who bring the high standard of “semper fidelis” alive for all Americans, rich and poor, soldiers and civilians, in war and peace, today and forever.  

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at


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