There’s more to President Barack Obama’s decision to name General David Petraeus to run the war in Afghanistan than mere adherence to the American chain of command and a need for war management continuity. After sacking General Stanley (Foot-In-Mouth) McChrystal, Obama gave the job to Petraeus, the head of Central Command or CENTCOM. Aside from all the obvious military and geostrategic benefits, in assigning the task to Petraeus Obama has reduced the chance that he may have to run against the campaign ribbon-loving general in 2012.
For at least three years there has been periodic media speculation about the political ambitions of Gen. Petraeus.
Mother Jones magazine, in September, 2007 ran a piece comparing Petraeus to Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander during World War II. Eisenhower, the war hero, went on to become a two-term president. In the Mother Jones article an unnamed “former senior intelligence official” describes Petraeus as “a walking mass of ambition.” The observer added: “I’m sure he’s thinking about Dwight Eisenhower every day.”
One need only look at all the campaign ribbons and medals and the Army equivalent of Boy Scout Merit Badges that litter the general’s uniform to grasp that this is a man with self-admiration to spare.
At about the time the magazine article appeared, the British newspaper The Independent ran a story quoting Sabah Kahdim, a former Iraqi Interior Ministry official, as saying he asked Petraeus point-blank in 2004 if he intended to run for president in 2008. Kahdim says Petraeus replied: “No, that would be too soon.”
Petraeus has bedazzled many in the pundit class. David Ignatius of the Washington Post calls him “the most deft political figure I’ve seen in uniform.”
There’s even a “Petraeus for President in 2012″ Web site, but it doesn’t appear to be anything more than some Petraeus groupie’s wishful thinking.
To be sure, Petraeus has studiously avoided partisan politics while barely disguising the fact he brims with ambition that extends beyond Pentagon politics. To this day no one knows which political party, if any, Petraeus favors.
Because he is a career soldier many assume he is a Republican. But they don’t really know. It’s a guess.
The American Enterprise Institute – a conservative think tank – a few months back gave Gen. Petraeus the 2010 Irving Kristol Award at a black-tie dinner. The award goes to individuals who make “exceptional” contributions to “improved government policy, social welfare or political understanding.”
But what if Petraeus regards himself as a Democrat? For the Donkey Party this might be a dream come true. At last! An American war hero with presidential ambitions who calls himself a Democrat!
While some party potentates might swoon at the thought, the Obama team likes being in the White House and despite the usual grousing most of them would dearly love a second term.
By turning to Petraeus as the potential superhero savior of the war in Afghanistan Obama has made it very difficult for the general to bow out of his war command to run for office in 2012. This is particularly true after the disloyalty shown by Stanley McChrystal and his band of merry macho aides. By naming Petraeus to finish the job in Afghanistan Obama has all but foreclosed a Petraeus run for President in 2012.
But Petraeus has time. He can be the loyal soldier for Obama and wind up or wind down the war in Afghanistan and position himself to leave the military as a hero who then has time to position himself for 2016, at which time he will be 63, an acceptable age for a presidential candidate.
David Petraeus is certain to do well in American civilian life. His biggest problem will be what to do with all the military ribbons and geegaws he wears so fondly.