Washington's politics, and what passes for the city's intellectual life, are not immune from the law of gravity. What rises fast to the stratosphere comes back to earth, whether Hillary Clinton or Kenneth Starr, Madeleine Albright or Donald Rumsfeld, the Contract with America, or Obamneycare. Blink, and the Next Big Thing is that book left in the rain at the end of your neighbor's garage sale. (Though then there are those who bounce through gravity, Clinton and Gingrich in particular—but that's another column, to be titled "Why F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong.")
David Petraeus burst into public consciousness as the general who had, supposedly literally, written the book on counterinsurgency—warfare centered on winning the hearts and minds of civilians, known to the cognoscenti as COIN—and who was single-handedly dispatched to turn things around in first Iraq and then Afghanistan. Conservatives loved him because he talked confidently about prevailing. Internationalists and humanitarians liked the idea of focus on governance and meeting human needs as keys to ending fighting. The Beltway intellectual elite loved him because he seemed to be a thinker: West Point, Princeton, learning the lessons of the past. The media loved him because he gave good TV. And good quotes. And good background. And manhood tests for civilians disguised as five-mile runs.