Thinking up the surge, "winning" the war in Iraq, and rethinking America's military strategy. David Petraeus is a worthy pick for Prospect's public intellectual of 2008by James Crabtree / January 17, 2009 / Leave a comment
Earlier this year Prospect teamed up with Foreign Policy to list the world’s 100 greatest living public intellectuals, a contest won (after some sharp-elbowed campaigning) by the Turkish cleric Fetullah Gülen. But who has had the most impact in 2008? We gathered an all-star judging panel (see opposite) from the worlds of policy, media and ideas to find out.
The concept of “public intellectual” remains satisfyingly vague. Nonetheless, we instructed our panel to weigh up the field on three criteria: novelty, real-world impact, and intellectual pizzazz. Internal debate, along with soundings on our blog, First Drafts, created a shortlist of ten—the names you see on these pages. From there it was down to one judge, one vote. A three-way contest for the crown quickly emerged, with Roubini, “Thalerstein” and Petraeus all popular. Generally the panel voted according to type: the wonks liked Nudge, number crunchers wanted an economist, while foreign policy watchers thought the scholarly general deserving of the nod. On our website we provide details of all our judges’ votes, and their reasons. Ultimately, though, there could only be one winner. As in Iraq, so in Prospect: Petraeus surged to victory.
The top three
1. David Petraeus
American general and current commander of United States Central Command
This was the year in which General David Petraeus, who holds a PhD from Princeton, demonstrated the battlefield success of his marine field manual—itself a solid intellectual piece of work produced after 16 months of study and consultation. Arguably, the so-called “Petraeus doctrine” is the only written piece of intellectual output in the last two years that has made a direct difference to the lives of millions. It’s radical among other things for being the first actively humane warfighting doctrine to ever come out of the Pentagon, enshrining the ideas that winning a modern war requires ensuring the security and wellbeing of the civilian population, that humanitarian assistance and construction projects are critical to any fight, and that 80 per cent of the battle is a political one. Petraeus has also waged a war of ideas against many in Washington who have argued that fewer constraints and more ruthless tactics were required in Iraq. This year, he won. And so he is a worthy winner of our award. Prospect was against the war in Iraq. But we know an original thinker when we…