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General Petraeus’ faint praise

Archie Bland

pg 26 US strikes ge 380372s General Petraeus faint praise

Well, that’s a rare contrast that helps BP. On the same day their US chief Lamar McKay was getting thoroughly roasted by the House energy and commerce sub-committee, and, all right, not exactly breezing it, but at least remaining on a relatively even keel, US commander in Iraq and Afghanistan General David Petraeus was collapsing in the middle of a considerably friendlier interrogation by John McCain. Goodness knows what would have happened to Petraeus had he been subjected to the same tongue-lashing as McKay and his fellow oil chiefs.

The four star general, whose aides said he was probably just jetlagged, appeared to be fine afterwards, and the concern of the senators who had been questioning him was naturally heartfelt. On the other hand, it may have obscured another fascinating story with rather more long-term impact: the questions at the Senate Armed Services Committee that got at possible divisions between Petraeus and his Commander-in-Chief. When Senator Carl Levin asked if his continued support for Mr Obama’s policies in Afghanistan, in particular the setting of a date for the beginning of a drawdown, represented “his best personal professional judgement,” Jackson Diehl reports in the Washington Post, “the silence in the chamber was ringing as Petraeus hesitated. Probably something between five and ten seconds passed.” And the endorsement Petraeus came up with? “In a perfect world, Mr Chairman, we have to be very careful with timelines.”

Before his unpleasant turn, Petraeus went on to reconcile his position with the administration’s in convincing fashion. But that initial sliver of wiggle room is important. There have been whispers for some time now that Petraeus may one day consider a presidential run, and he and his staff just never seem to deflate them quite as thoroughly as they could. With no standout Republican candidate for the 2012 race, and the GOP never so happy as when it’s deferring to a soldier, it’s not hard to see the circumstances in which a run might begin to be like an attractive possibility. But that leaves the general with an awkward problem: how to do his job to the best of his abilities, and remain publicly unified with the White House, without wedding himself to a policy that might easily look mistaken by the time primary season begins. There’s no obvious answer to that quandary, which is one reason many people remain sceptical about the likelihood of a Petraeus run, in 2012 at least. But just until the prospect is entirely excluded, don’t be surprised if General Petraeus continues to agree with his boss in tones that might be considered somewhat reserved.

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