In its place, Abizaid created a brain trust renamed the Commander's Advisory Group. Filled with less than a dozen officers selected for their expertise and maverick views, the group serves as Abizaid's personal think tank. In another indication of open-mindedness, he named as head of the new group Col. H. R. McMaster, a decorated Gulf War veteran who wrote the 1997 book "Dereliction of Duty" about "the lies that led to Vietnam." Colonel McMaster left last week to assume command of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.
"Abizaid is a firm believer in powering down to subordinates," says retired Lt. Gen. Dan Christman, who as West Point superintendent chose Abizaid to serve as his commandant of cadets. "Frankly, I found him the most mentally agile of any officer I've met."
In many other respects, Abizaid breaks with the stereotypic mold of four-star Army officers, according to some who know him. Although a competitive 1973 West Point graduate and combat veteran of the first Gulf War and 1983 US invasion of Grenada, where he lead a Ranger rifle company, Abizaid shuns the swaggering, back-slapping image popular among many of his peers. When he talks about military campaigns, he leaves out the usual football metaphors and wanted-poster analogies. Instead, for instance, he speaks of "sine waves of violence" in Iraq and the need for a long-term US presence that is "effective but not overbearing."
Even more unusual, as an American of Lebanese descent with a Harvard degree in Middle Eastern studies, Abizaid is one of the few foreign-area officers to rise to the rank of four-star general and "bridge the gap between warrior and intellectual," says General Christman, who as military adviser to the State Department in the mid-1990s often sought Abizaid's advice on the Mideast peace process.
Indeed, Abizaid often stresses the cross-cultural imperatives of the war on terrorism, and the importance of nonmilitary remedies.