posted at 1:29 pm on March 19, 2010 by Dafydd ab Hugh
Gen. David Petraeus is edging closer and closer to calling for the end of President William “Billery” Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy anent gays serving openly in military service. Gen. Petraeus has not yet announced his support for dropping the prohibition entirely, but he seems on the verge of doing so:
Meanwhile, Petraeus, who was catapulted to fame by overseeing the troop surge in Iraq more than two years ago, said “the time has come to consider a change” but cautioned that the change to the Clinton-era law should be done in a “thoughtful manner,” and it should not be rendered without first making assessments as to how a change would affect recruiting, retention, morale and cohesion within the military services….
Petraeus, the most popular general of his generation, stopped short of giving his personal take on the current ban, but told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he had an eight-minute prepared statement on his position regarding the repeal of the ban.
“This is not a sound-bite issue,” Petraeus said.
There are several ways to interpret this endorsement, if indeed it is one…
- Some might argue that Petraeus is just mouthing politically correct sentiments but doesn’t really mean them. This strikes me as most unlikely; he is not generally known as a PC kinda guy.
Some might hint that he only supports the “gay agenda” because he’s sucking up to President Barack H. Obama (though perhaps a better verb is called for), hoping the president will name him Chief of Staff of the Army.
But I don’t think Petraeus has any hope or expectation of being picked by Obama for such an intensely political position; nobody knows Petraeus’ politics exactly, as he quite properly will not divulge them while wearing the uniform of his country. But it’s a good bet that David Howell Petraeus is considerably more conservative than Obama would want.
In addition, Petraeus is inextricably shackled to George W. Bush, who promoted him and put him in charge of the Iraq War. Given how the resident president feels about his predecessor, the idea that Obama would ever elevate David Petraeus is laughable. He would be more likely to find some excuse to cashier him or move him to a “window seat.”
Eric Shinseki, Clinton’s pick in 1999, is more Obama’s type. In 2011, Obama will undoubtedly name a four-star who also happens to be a doctrinaire liberal who shares Obama’s peculiar ideas about the use of (or abstention from) military force. Bog only knows where he’ll find one.
- The most straightforward explanation is this: Petraeus honestly believes gays can serve openly without disrupting discipline or damaging morale. If this is true, he becomes the most persuasive and authoritative voice of that policy in American history… for nobody could deny the general’s leadership, command ability, and real-world combat experience.
No one can say, “What does he know about unit cohesion and the intense bonding of combat?”
This is the explanation I personally favor, that Gen. Petraeus has concluded that fears about military catastrophe, arising from removing a barrier that I consider risible and indefensible, are overblown and exaggerated — or unconsciously fabricated post-hoc to rationalize deep prejudice.
But there is a fourth possibility that I would be remiss to miss cataloging:
- Gen. Petraeus could be pushing this issue because he intends to run in 2012 for a promotion from Commander of CENTCOM to Commander in Chief.
He may believe he already has a solid base among conservatives, so he may be reaching out to social moderates. If Petraeus ran as an economic and military conservative — while being less ideological on non-economic domestic issues such as gays serving in the military; outreach to immigrants who truly want to assimilate; support for basic abortion rights, though with more stringent restrictions on late-term and partial-birth abortion (even Ronald Reagan never seriously tried to make abortion illegal); embryonic and adult stem-cell research (perhaps with a prohibition on killing the embryos while extracting stem cells, see our 2006 post on the bioresearch breakthrough) — I say he would vault immediately to the head of the class.
David Petraeus is the first general since Dwight Eisenhower to capture the fancy and imagination of the American people in a positive way. Gen. Colin Powell came close, but his war was over too soon for the public really to form an opinion. Petraeus’ campaign against the One could flow from a single sentence: Petraeus led us to victory in Iraq after Sen. Obama announced we’d already lost.
The only tea leaf that points to his next address being 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is that he plans to deliver a major policy speech in New Hampshire on Wednesday, May 24th. Why New Hampshire? He currently serves at the Pentagon or in the field in U.S. Central Command, he was born and raised in upstate New York, he has no particular tie to New Hampshire. The Granite State is, however, the traditional kick-off point for presidential campaigns.
A candidate such as Gen. Petraeus is a monster-under-the-bed scenario for the Democrats. He is charismatic, articulate, clean; he has no closeted skeletons they can rattle, no ratty little scandals as city councilman or corrupt, small-town mayor; he has no paper trail of questionable compromises as representative or senator. Even a Chicago sleaze machine of epic chutzpah like Organizing for America needs something to work with; Petraeus can’t even be attacked as a Mormon!
And imagine voter reaction if Obama tried to run against Petraeus by saying, “What has he ever accomplished? He’s not even a politician!”
In fact, he’s just as big of a headache to other Republican hopefuls. By contrast, the GOP field seems a tired retread (Mitt Romney), a callow and flighty poseur (Sarah Palin), a who-dat? unknown quantity (Tim Pawlenty), or a goofy kid brother on a 1990s sitcom (“Everybody Loves Bobby” Jindal).
In many ways, Petraeus is the anti-Obama:
- He comes from a conservative section of New York State, Orange County, which just barely gave its vote to Obama in 2008 by 51% to 48%… when the state as a whole went for Obama by 62% to 37%. By contrast, Obama is from Honolulu, Hawaii, one of the most liberal cities in the United States.
- He has a PhD from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs — a quintessentially ivy-league university (and ultra-liberal school within that university); yet he has chosen to devote his life to commanding troops in combat — very aggressive, bloody combat, furthering the national security of the United States. To a man like Barack Obama, this does not compute.
- Petraeus has an intensely American view of life, duty, and the world; Obama has a more “cosmopolitan” or Euro-socialist viewpoint.
- Petraeus is a decider who is always ready to act on his decisions and put his life on the line; Obama habitually avoids making decisions, preferring to be the philosopher king who stands above the fray and disdains personally to act: He leaves such vulgarities to his minions in the administration and his acolytes in Congress.
- Petraeus spent his entire career in the Army; Obama has spent his entire professional life loathing the Army.
Electability aside, if Petraeus’ political positions are in line with the mainstream of the GOP, I think he would make a much better president than any of the other likely GOP candidates. I would certainly trust his understanding of our current war against the Iran/al-Qaeda axis better than any president since Ronald Reagan, who understood our war against the evil Soviet Empire.
The only slight flaw in this spiderweb of speculation is that Petraeus himself has repeatedly, emphatically, and betimes rather earthily rejected the idea of running for political office, and especially of running for the presidency. But perhaps he can be persuaded by an appeal to his sense of duty… particularly if he sees a continuing deterioration of America’s national-security apparatus.
Here’s hoping; beside Petraeus, the other potential GOP candidates seem drab and tedious, and I’m not at all sure any can defeat Obama in 2012 — unless the president manages to defeat himself.
Cross-posted on Big Lizards…