From February 2007 to May 2008, Peter Mansoor was Gen. David Petraeus's right-hand man in Iraq. Now a retired U.S. Army colonel teaching at Ohio State University, Mansoor worked closely with Petraeus as the general's executive officer, assisting with the implementation of the "surge" strategy and preparing his congressional testimony -- including the grueling hearings in September 2007 that Petraeus later said were "the most miserable experience of my life." FP senior editor Benjamin Pauker caught up with Mansoor in the wake of Petraeus's dramatic nomination to take over command of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was fired by President Obama in the wake of a Rolling Stone profile gone wrong.
Mansoor describes his former boss as "a very hard man to keep up with" who will do whatever it takes to succeed. As for the mission, Mansoor worries about a divided team on the ground, declining morale among U.S. soldiers, and a poor understanding of counterinsurgency warfare. "Hearts and minds have nothing to do with it," he says. Excerpts:
Foreign Policy: Having served under Gen. David Petraeus, how would you describe him as a leader?
Peter Mansoor: General Petraeus is a very focused, intelligent leader. He drives himself hard and he expects the people around him to put everything they have into the mission. And he also cares for the people around him. He takes care of them, both in the current assignment and future assignments. He is a very competent leader, and that's what he looks for in the people around him. My experience was very positive. He's a very hard man to keep up with [laughs] given the pace he keeps. It was very refreshing to be around an intelligent leader who was in this war to win it, and not just managing his way through the conflict.
FP: How is his health?
PM: He had a bout with prostate cancer, which was treated with chemotherapy, and supposedly that has been completely cleared. Then there was the episode where he fainted when talking to the Senate Armed Services Committee. I don't think it was so much exhaustion as it was coming back from a long, overseas trip where he was dehydrated already, given the plane travel; he was suffering from some sort of bug, and then he failed to eat breakfast the morning of the hearing and didn't drink anything, because as you know -- or maybe you don't [laughs] -- they don't give you bathroom breaks during those Senate hearings. As a result, he was dehydrated, lacked fluids, hit a wall, and fainted.
FP: Is there a concern about his stamina given the requirements of the job?
PM: No, General Petraeus has done more than any other general -- maybe except for Stan McChrystal -- to ensure that he keeps in good shape. He's very attentive to his health. Of course, this is going to be very difficult for his family; this is his fourth combat tour since 2003 -- and two of them were at the four-star level -- which is very psychologically and mentally challenging. So this is not going to be an easy assignment. But physically, he'll be up to the task. It will be important for the folks around him to make sure that he gets the sort of rest and exercise needed to keep him mentally engaged at a top level.