When Gen. David Petraeus spoke in Atlanta recently, he drew a strong turnout from Georgia Republicans. You also heard whisperings from some in the audience that someday, someday, Petraeus might be running for president under the GOP banner.
I very much doubt that would happen. Petraeus is certainly a political general; you don’t excel at a job like his without political skills. But I don’t see Petraeus running for elective office under either party’s banner.
That said, the general has also made clear his disagreement with much of what seems to motivate self-styled “national security conservatives,” who embrace policies based on their appeal to macho instincts rather than their wisdom. Petraeus struck a number of those notes in an appearance Sunday on Meet The Press:
“I have always been on the record, in fact, since 2003, with the concept of living our values. And I think that whenever we have, perhaps, taken expedient measures, they have turned around and bitten us in the backside. We decided early on in the 101st Airborne Division we’re just going to–look, we just said we’d decide to obey the Geneva Convention, to, to move forward with that. That has, I think, stood elements in good stead. We have worked very hard over the years, indeed, to ensure that elements like the International Committee of the Red Cross and others who see the conduct of our detainee operations and so forth approve of them. Because in the cases where that is not true, we end up paying a price for it ultimately. Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are nonbiodegradables. They don’t go away. The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick in the Central Command area of responsibility. Beyond that, frankly, we have found that the use of the interrogation methods in the Army Field Manual that was given, the force of law by Congress, that that works.”
On the closing of Guantanamo:
“I’ve been on the record on that for well over a year as well, saying that it should be closed. But it should be done in a responsible manner. So I’m not seized with the issue that it won’t be done by a certain date. In fact, I think it is–it’s very prudent to ensure that, as we move forward with that, wherever the remaining detainees are relocated and so forth, whatever jurisdiction is used in legal cases and so forth, is really thought through and done in a very pragmatic and sensible manner.”
On Don’t Ask Don’t Tell:
“You know, all we have are, are personal soundings to go on, and I’ve certainly done some of that myself. I mean, you’ve heard General Powell, who was the chairman when the policy was implemented, had a big hand in that, who said that, yes indeed, the earth has revolved around the sun a number of times since that period 15 months (sic: years) ago. And you’ve heard a variety of anecdotal input. We have experienced, certainly, in the CIA and the FBI, I know. I served in fact in combat with individuals who were gay and who were lesbian in combat situations and, frankly, you know, over time you said, “Hey, how’s, how’s this guy’s shooting?” Or “How is her analysis,” or what have you. So–but we’ll see. “
One prominent general who did leave military service and announce himself as a Republican was of course Colin Powell. In 2008, Powell broke with the party to endorse Barack Obama, a step that many conservatives still find unforgivable, as noted here, including interesting photo selection.
In an interview on “Face the Nation” Sunday, Powell also made clear his continuing disagreement with the macho wing of his party, which is led by former Vice President Dick “Five Deferments and Duck if He Grabs a Shotgun” Cheney:
“I think Guantanamo has cost us a lot over the years in terms of our standing in the world and the way in which despots have hidden behind what we have at Guantanamo to justify their own positions… I think we ought to remove this incentive that exists in the presence of Guantanamo to encourage people and to give radicals an opportunity to say, ‘You see? This is what America is all about. They’re all about torture and detention centers.’”
Cheney’s claim we are “less safe”:
“Our counterterrorism authorities and forces are hard at work. Our law enforcement officials are hard at work. We have gone after the enemy in Afghanistan with 50,000 more troops, more Predators are striking al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Pakistan. We have continued the policies that President Bush put in place with respect to Iraq. And so, I don’t know where the claim comes that we’re less safe.”
“The point is made, ‘We don’t waterboard anymore or use extreme interrogation techniques.’ Most of those extreme interrogation techniques and waterboarding were done away with in the Bush administration. And they’ve been made officially done away with in this current administration.”
On trying terror suspects in civilian court:
“In eight years the military commissions have put three people on trial. Two of them served relatively short sentences and are free. One guy is in jail. Meanwhile, the federal courts,our Article III, regular legal court system, has put dozens of terrorists in jail and they’re fully capable of doing it. So the suggestion that somehow a military commission is the way to go isn’t born out by the history of the military commissions.”