The NEWSWEEK 50: Central Command Head Petraeus

With no small amount of hyperbole, Gen. David Petraeus was sworn in as the new head of Central Command on a bright October morning in Tampa. "He is the pre-eminent soldier, scholar and statesman of his generation," Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared. After the ceremony, a large group of three- and four-star generals gathered in the paneled gloom of the officers' club to personally wish Petraeus well. One of the four-stars present offered a more urgent and foreboding assessment of Petraeus's role in history. "If Dave can't salvage Afghanistan," he said, "nobody can." (Story continued below...)

Petraeus will do that—if he can—by viewing Afghanistan as part of a larger tangle of problems. As of now, the United States doesn't have a coherent strategy toward the Arab and Muslim worlds. Petraeus, more than anyone else in the U.S. government, will be responsible for forging one. His first act at Tampa was to set up a review of U.S. strategy across the whole region. (Central Command's writ stretches across 20 countries, from Egypt to Central Asia and Pakistan, but its core is the Arab world.) It's a huge effort: more than 200 of the United States' brightest officers and State Department experts are involved, as well as outside specialists. The goal is to have the review ready for the new president in February.

The review's conclusions, however tactfully couched, will extend well beyond the purely military. Islamist terrorism cannot be defeated by what the military calls "kinetics" alone. Yet the military commands vastly more resources than the State Department. Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are doing jobs—from political mediation to organizing reconstruction projects—that should be tasks for State and the Agency for International Development. But those instruments of American "soft power" have been blunted by years of neglect and misuse. Petraeus may indeed be the only man who can salvage Afghanistan—but that's largely because he recognizes, perhaps better than anyone else, that he'll need a lot of help.