Since 2001, a dozen commanders have cycled through the top jobs in Iraq, Afghanistan and the U.S. Central Command, which oversees both wars. Three of those commanders — including the recently dismissed Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal — have been fired or resigned under pressure.
History has judged many others harshly, and only two, Gen. David H. Petraeus and Gen. Ray Odierno, are widely praised as having mastered the complex mixture of skills that running America’s wars demands.
For the military, this record of mediocrity raises a vexing question: What is wrong with the system that produces top generals?
Much of what top commanders do in such places as Afghanistan and Iraq bears little relation to the military skills that helped them rise through the ranks, military officials said. Today’s wars demand that top commanders act like modern viceroys, overseeing military operations and major economic development efforts. They play dominant roles in the internal politics of the countries where their troops fight.