One of my professors is the director of the Center for American Studies in Rome and he invited a handful of us to the eternal city for a small briefing choc full of military brass and civilians - about 100 in all - to listen to the new leader of CentCom give an update on Iraq.
He said a lot of what you would expect someone in his position to say. It’s clear he’s trying to drum up allied support for the ongoing “surge” in Iraq. It would not be a stretch to see him making the same pitch for a similar move in Afghanistan down the line. You can read my summary about the event here.
Judging from Petraeus’ body language, he wanted to be elsewhere. I can’t say I blame him. He was actively trying to convince a very skeptical crowd that the new “biggest foreign policy blunder in modern times” is going well. That would be like me trying to say Chicago winters aren’t that bad as I stand outside in the middle of a persistent, sub-zero February. But he soldiered on and put on the good face. He stayed on message, never wavered and did his best to win over the audience. I suppose Italy’s future commitments to the military campaign will signal how well he did.
Watching the general, I was reminded of a harsh leadership learning moment I experienced in the fall of 2007. It wasn’t pleasant being the target of some people’s ire when I was sincerely trying to help an organization I cared about. But it comes with the territory, I suppose. And it got me to thinking: do people who aspire to positions of leadership know that this will be part of the job and do they in any way prepare for it? Regardless of how qualified they might be for a position, would they turn it down if they knew what it feels like to be in that position? Does an ability to take that kind of punishment in stride signal a better leader? According to the prospective student material, SAIS is suppose to prepare us for just such leadership. Honestly, I don’t know that anything fully prepares anyone for it but jumping into something, giving it your all, succeeding at some things while failing beautifully at others. I think of opening that community learning center a few years back and the work I referenced in the preceding paragraph. It wasn’t always pretty, though it was fun and I learned more than I ever thought I would. Would I do it again? Probably but not without remembering this first:
And in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then, happy low, lie down
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. -- Henry IV, Part II, Act III, Scene I