We combed through 3,000 years of history to identify “standout” military commanders whose battlefield prowess, impact on the conduct of war in their respective eras, or significant contributions to the development of warfare helped create the world we live in today. Some leaders are best known for a single significant battle; Leonidas at Thermopylae and Alexander Nevsky at Lake Peipus fall into this category. Others on the list such as Alexander the Great and Napoleon are famous for their consistent excellence in numerous encounters and campaigns. Many of the “top 100” experienced war at the “sharp end” – Chesty Puller and Hal Moore are prime examples – while men like Helmuth von Moltke and Dwight Eisenhower directed operations from staff headquarters located far away from the fighting lines. Yet regardless of where these men commanded – whether on land, sea or in the air – each proved to the world that he was an extraordinary leader.
Warren Buffett famously observed that if you’ve been playing poker for half an hour and don’t know who the patsy at the table is, then you are the patsy. We’ve been in Afghanistan for 15 years. Afghans know how to manage the American officers passing through their country. American officers rotating through Afghanistan on short-term deployments can never fully understand the network of relationships behind the formal chain of command. I saw this firsthand in 2012 after working to relieve a clearly incompetent border police commander. After several months of cajoling his chain of command the officer was relieved. I had been told of his family connections, but felt his incompetence was surely enough to keep him out of uniform. Of course, I was wrong. By the time I returned in 2014, two generations of advisors had passed through the border police headquarters and he had reassumed command.
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