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Petreaus: Sycophant or Saint?

David Howell Petraeus, general in the United States Army and commander of the Multi-National Force Iraq finds himself in the middle of a raging political firestorm between Democrats and Republicans battling over control of US policy in Iraq. The 33-year army veteran has become the public face of the Bush administration's "stay the course" policy in Iraq, advocating that a large scale presence of US forces is essential for now and well into the future.

Petraeus, having been inserted so publicly and visibly into the political arena as spokesman for the continuation of our involvement in Iraq, has found himself the target of stinging personal attacks such as MoveOn.org's "Petraeus or Betray-Us" ad that appeared in the New York Times. Such attacks were predictable given the General's apparent acquiescence in becoming the chief spokesman for the White House in what should be an entirely political debate (i.e., no generals invited) centered on the the question of the continued involvement of US forces in Iraq.

After all, in America, it's rule by the people, not the generals. And the people's representatives, the 435 members of the House, the 100 members of the Senate, and the President should be the ones to decide how many troops we will keep in Iraq and for how long. The input of the generals is of course informative and essential, but it should be funneled through the proper channels, namely the civilian leader of America's impressive war-making machine, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Gates should have been the one to deliver testimony on the state of our mission in Iraq on Capitol Hill last week, not Petraeus. I have the utmost of respect and admiration for General Petraeus as a warrior. I have little respect or admiration for him as a politician. Surely he must understand how he is being used by the Bush White House to promote the continuation of a war that has become deeply unpopular with the American people. Petraeus has done an admirable job of reintroducing the doctrine of counterinsurgency warfare to a military that was determined to forget everything it had learned about it after the Vietnam War. For that, he deserves a great deal of credit.

But somewhere along the line, Petraeus agreed to take on the unwelcome task of becoming the public face for the Bush administration's policy in Iraq which at its core consists of the continued and indefinite sacrifice of US troops for a costly and open-ended nation building effort in a country where the people clearly are not wholeheartedly committed to that same effort. In doing so, Petraeus has exposed himself and the institution he surely loves and admirably represents to great peril. The military and its leaders cannot afford to be perceived as political tools of one party or the other in the ever-persistent partisan warfare that characterizes our great democracy. Their job should and must always be the pursuit of the objectives spelled out to them by the civilian leadership in the Pentagon, White House and the Congress.

Why? Because that's how the Founding Fathers wanted it. They didn't want the decision to go to war to be an easy one. They created an elaborate system of checks and balances to ensure that the government would not for long pursue an unpopular war that had the widespread disapproval of the public.

Which leads us back to General Petraeus and his role in the current debate over our future involvement in Iraq. Is he a sycophant of the Bush administration's relentless push for endless war in the Middle East, or is he a virtuous saint leading a righteous war on terror against those who would be fighting us over here if we weren't fighting them over there?

Answer: neither. He's a capable military man who may have found himself star-crossed by the double-talkers in this administration who coerced him into a political battle where he himself knows he should not be. So my message to the General is this: please reconsider your position in our democracy as it is described in the Constitution and under our rule of law. Raise questions the next time that anyone asks you to carry their water in an essentially political debate over the necessity and wisdom of our nation's continuing involvement in any war, and please politely defer to the civilian leadership that by law instructs you on how to carry out the will of the people as it is expressed through our elected representatives in Congress and the Executive Branch.

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Rating: 2.2/5 (13 votes cast)

Comments (15)

Steve Crickmore:

This politicized role of Petreaus is one that the General seems to enjoy,..But when asked if asked if he was planning to run in 2008 he said 'no, that would be too soon,".

mnnh.. I wonder which party Petreaus would like to be running for, as their Presidental candidate in 2012.


Sooo, are you going to pull your head out of your ass and retract pretty much your entire post, or are you going to ignore your own obvious mental inadequacies?

Public Law 110-28.

Ayes: 221 Dem:219 Repub:2

And the relevant quote: (3) TESTIMONY BEFORE CONGRESS- Prior to the submission of the President's second report on September 15, 2007, and at a time to be agreed upon by the leadership of the Congress and the Administration, the United States Ambassador to Iraq and the Commander, Multi-National Forces Iraq will be made available to testify in open and closed sessions before the relevant committees of the Congress.

I figured someone had to come over and note it.


They've got you dead to rights on this one, Larkin.


fake but accurate again, huh?


So - let me see if I get this straight.

The Dems were duped into confirming Petraeus 81-0 to go out and try to jump-start the stalled effort to get Iraq settled down.

He does the job - comes back and reports what he did. No more, no less.

And we're supposed to be upset that the Democrats were too stupid to figure out that was what Petraeus was going to do?

Tell me again just WHY, if they're so damn gullible, they should be in control? 'Cause I'm having a real hard time figuring out why we're supposed to want to have our government run by folks who would gleefully buy the Brooklyn Bridge if some fast-talking Hsu-salesman were to try to sell it to them.

I think they thought they were going to try to pull one over on Bush. And they're supposed to be smart enough to guide our country through all the diplomatic snares and traps and troubles in the world today?

Damn, you're asking me to suspend a hell of a lot of disbelief to buy that.


Ah, this is one of those extra baffling rovian plot conspiracy theory things than. You should have just stated that in your original post.

Lee Ward:

Actually it's one of those "Why don't you pull your conservative fat head out of your conservative fat ass because it's so damned obvious" things...


The fact that the Democrats fell for it doesn't invalidate my post. They should have realized how the administration planned to use Petraeus.

Fell for what? Their own demand that Petraeus come before Congress? Are you serious?

It was not a trick. The Democrats demanded that he give testimony.

The Iraq War is Bush's, not Petraeus'. The civilian leadership in the Pentagon and White House should be the ones giving the report.

The Democrats demanded that Patraeus give his testimony.

I think the Dems have now figured out that they made a mistake, but that doesn't get Petraeus off the hook in my opinion.

Off the hook from what? Doing what he was legally required to do? Ok, he's not off the hook for that.

He knows how he is being used in a political fight and I think that damages the image of the military in the eyes of a lot of people. The military should be above these sorts of partisan battles.

The whole idea behind that provision was that the Democrats would be able to talk to the Ambassador and the Commander, instead of relying solely on the word of the White House. It's absurd to fault those who testified under the law the Democrats passed as letting themselves "be used in a political fight." If anyone is using him, it's the Democrats.

And if the link in Steve Crickmore's post is right, Petraeus knows exactly what he is doing. He is laying the groundwork for a future Presidential run as a Republican.

I'm completely baffled by your reasoning. Are you saying that Petraeus only testified before Congress because he wants to run for office sometime in the future, and if he were above politics he would have refused to do what he was legally required to do? What the hell are you smoking?

Not only that, but you would be wise to be a little skeptical about the claims of former Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesmen.

Lee Ward:

"It was not a trick. The Democrats demanded that he give testimony."

Obviously they trusted Petraeus at the time they made that request.

Obviously, they shouldn't have.

Lee Ward:

hence the "betrayal of trust"...


Ok, even if it is true that they "trusted" Petraeus, it was clear from his past statements what he would say ("we're making progress"). If they trusted that he would suddenly say something different, they are idiots.

Anyway, if what you say is true, shouldn't the point of the post be "Democrats - Idiots or Just Naive?" I mean, seriously, what the hell would anyone expect the military commander to say, other than, "things are getting better, but there's a long way to go." It wouldn't have mattered if it was Petraeus or someone else, that's what would have been said no matter what.

In any case, Larkin's entire post was based upon ignorant assumptions about what the Commander was doing before Congress, and his reply when that was pointed out was lame. Just say you fucked up, and move on.

Lee Ward:

They trusted he would tell the truth.

Yes, in retrospect, they were idiots. Foolish dreamers, those Democrats. They should have known better.


There's no need for retrospect, it could have been assumed. I'll save you the trouble for next time by offering this prediction: The Democrats are idiots, and they will do idiotic things. There, now you won't be surprised.

Lee Ward:

That's precisely what scares me about the Democrats' embrace of Mukasey as AG.

He must be a really bad choice for them to like him that much.

Petraeus knowingly assumed the role as spokesman for Bush's policy on Iraq. He clearly promoted himself for that role and eagerly assumed it. He was under no obligation to make all of the TV appearances that he has made. The idea that he has been unwillingly dragged into that role by the Democrats makes no sense. Yes, they required him to testify but that was only after he assumed the role of spokesman.

Apparently you believe that this statement:

Gates should have been the one to deliver testimony on the state of our mission in Iraq on Capitol Hill last week, not Petraeus.

was a screwup because the Congress required him to testify. I disagree. I still believe Gates should be the one delivering that testimony regardless of whether the Dems required Petraeus to. I'm entitled to my opinion. Petraeus, who has eagerly assumed the role of combatant in this political fight, is equally to blame. He's clearly going far beyond what is required in his position. I hope the Democrats (and Republicans) will come to the realization of how damaging it is to the military to inject them into the middle of what is entirely a political debate (as it should be) over the future course of the war.


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Publisher: Kevin Aylward

Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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