America still has exceptional public servants. Just look at Ryan Crocker and David Petraeus
The last few weeks have been bad for the domestic reputation of the US Government. Ryan Crocker and David Petraeus provide compelling evidence that not all is lost
It is not a stretch to say that the last few weeks have been bad for the domestic reputation of the US Government. First there was the GSA controversy, then came the Secret Service scandal and then, in the background, arrived further reports of inappropriate photographs taken by US Military personnel. In light of these incidents, Americans are growing ever more disillusioned with their government. A government seemingly typified by unyielding political gridlock and inferior public service.
However, while recent failings must not be ignored, America still has government role models who exemplify honorable, effective and non-partisan national service. Few finer examples can be found than in Ryan Crocker and David Petraeus. Two public servants who have weathered the strongest of political storms, served their country at the highest levels under two administrations and who have accomplished much for America and for American ideals.
Fluent in Arabic and Farsi, Ryan Crocker, a career State Department diplomat, spent much of his career in the Middle East. Serving in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War, Crocker gained an early insight into the horrors of open sectarian warfare. After reaching the rank of Ambassador, from 1990 to 2007, Crocker served alternately as US Ambassador to Lebanon, Kuwait, Syria and Pakistan. In March 2007, at the height of the violence in that country, Crocker was appointed by President GW Bush as the new US Ambassador to Iraq.
Top of his class at both the US Army’s Ranger school and Command and General Staff College and the holder of a PhD from Princeton, Petraeus spent much of his military career in the elite units of the US Army. After the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Petraeus distinguished his unit in Mosul, Iraq by applying a counter-insurgency campaign to restore order and services to the people who lived in his area of operations. In January 2007, Petraeus was appointed as commanding general for coalition forces in Iraq.
In Iraq, in 2007, the career diplomat and the career soldier were tasked with what many believed to be an insurmountable mission: to reduce violence to a level where sectarian hatreds could cool and a chance at stable, democratic governance could be embraced. While Crocker and Petraeus faced epidemic violence and intransigent politicians in Iraq, when giving testimony in Washington, the two men also had to contend with politicians more interested in scoring campaign points than serious discussion.
Further, even though he was just doing his job, Petraeus was a target of vicious character attacks by anti-Bush organisations. In the face of this total onslaught it would have been easy for Petraeus and Crocker to lose faith and quietly serve out their tours. However, instead of backing down, the two men adopted an audacious and relentless plan; an approach that involved courting the trust of Iraqi politicians, recruiting former insurgents into new security forces and laying a framework for Iraq’s long term economic development.
Moving beyond terrible American errors in the early years of the war, alongside Iraqis, Crocker, Petraeus and their staffs achieved great success. Together, they helped dramatically reduce violence in Iraq to a position in which a semblance of democratic political/social stability was (and is) able to take place.
The legacy of these two public servants doesn’t end here though.
After leaving Iraq, Petraeus unequivocally rejected Republican requests to use his Iraq record to run for political office. Instead, he served under Obama as commander of US forces in the Middle East and then as ISAF commander in Afghanistan. After resigning from the military, Petraeus took up position as Obama’s new CIA director. Ignoring Washington’s too often ‘celebrity’ style culture, Petraeus rarely appears in public, instead focusing on behind the scenes work.
For Crocker, after Iraq, a four day drive home to Washington State was more desirable than the lucrative opportunities that could have awaited him inside the DC beltway. In late 2009, he took up an appointment as a college dean.
However, in 2011, after the collapse of the Eikenberry-Karzai relationship, Crocker’s service was once again requested by an American President. Answering his country’s call, Crocker came out of retirement and returned to Afghanistan.
Both Crocker and Petraeus could have done many things with their lives. Even before Iraq, they held distinguished records that would have enabled them to semi-retire to relaxed lives in the private sector. After Iraq, Petraeus could have probably become the 2008 Republican nominee for President. Ryan could have made a fortune from his star status as America’s most highly regarded diplomat.
In the end both men decided to return to the storm, working for comparatively little money in two of the most crucial and challenging roles in the US Government.
For Americans who talk about the death of public service, Ryan Crocker and David Petraeus provide a compelling response.
Tom Rogan is a Republican blogger, based in the UK. He has written for the Guardian, among other media outlets, and writes his own blog
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