Petraeus New Hampshire Speech: Presidential Campaign Underway?
Reports that General David Petraeus is giving a speech at Saint Anselm College’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics on March 24 is ginning up speculation that he’s running for president.
News that Gen. David Petraeus is venturing out of his Centcom comfort zone late this month to the state of New Hampshire is catnip for a certain chunk of obsessives who believe that Petraeus wants to run for president (and be nominated as vice president) in 2012. Petraeus has said he’s not interested, in public. So do most would-be candidates at this stage. So ignore that for now. Here’s what I can add:
First, as James Pindell notes, Petraeus lives in New Hampshire. He’s registered to vote there as a Republican.
Petraeus attends a lot of fancy private dinner gatherings in Washington. I have never been to one of these gatherings, but I’ve spoken with several folks who’ve attended several of them, and they all seem to come away with the impression that Petraeus is far more interested in exploring his political options than he says publicly.
He’s speaking at St. Anselm’s College, the site of many historic political moments — Ronald Reagan paid for his microphone there. No one runs for president without speaking at St. A’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics.
I presume but don’t know that Petraeus will run as Republican. Maybe he’d run as an independent. How does Petraeus fit in with the Tea Partiers, the Libertarians, the Social Conservatives? He certainly upstages Mitt “No Apology” Romney by sheer force of conviction. He’s not a terribly good political speaker, though, even though he gets the politics of large institutions quite small. Also, he’s small in stature. Do not be mislead into believing that a candidate’s height — even a general’s height — doesn’t matter. Wes Clark can tell a few stories about that.
I’d really sort of like to see the guy run for the GOP nomination. Presumably we’d see Mitt Romney slamming him as soft on terrorism and Petraeus would be slamming Romney for supporting Obama-style socialism on health care. It’d be kind of awesome.
At any rate, just thinking about it is a reminder that one reason these high-level military officers seem like appealing candidates is precisely because they get to be famous media celebrities without engaging in that sort of annoying political cut-and-thrust. But recall that as soon as Wesley Clark became a candidate, he started looking a lot more politician-y than he had before. It would be the same with anyone. Americans have a very low opinion of politics and politicians and people who act like politicians, but in practice the political system requires politicians to act like that. So anyone outside the arena looks appealing until he steps into the arena.
General Petraeus was the General George C. Marshall Award winner as the top graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College Class of 1983. He subsequently earned MPA and Ph.D. degrees in international relations from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and later served as an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the US Military Academy. He also completed a fellowship at Georgetown University.
Awards and decorations earned by General Petraeus include two awards of the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, two awards of the Distinguished Service Medal, two awards of the Defense Superior Service Medal, four awards of the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal for valor, the State Department Superior Honor Award, the NATO Meritorious Service Medal, and the Gold Award of the Iraqi Order of the Date Palm. He is a Master Parachutist and is Air Assault and Ranger qualified. He has also earned the Combat Action Badge and French, British, and German Jump Wings. In 2005 he was recognized by the U.S. News and World Report as one of America’s 25 Best Leaders, and in 2007 he was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential leaders and revolutionaries of the year and one of four runners-up for Time Person of the Year. Most recently, he was selected in a poll conducted by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines as one of the world’s top 100 public intellectuals and was chosen by Esquire magazine as one of the 75 Most Influential People of the 21st Century.
But Matt’s right: Petraeus is held in such high esteem precisely because of the contrast between his military bearing and the namby pamby styles of our political leaders. But one can’t run for president without becoming a politician. At least, not if you’re other than a vanity candidate running solely for the platform ala Alan Keyes, Dennis Kucinich, or Ralph Nader.
Petraeus is an enormously competent and successful general. He’s got celebrity on par with Colin Powell and has likely surpassed Norman Schwarzkopf. Right now, conservatives can view him as exactly the sort of guy they’d like leading their charge. We know very little about his political beliefs and, by definition, the more we know the less some will like. He hasn’t had to tell us what he thinks of health care reform, abortion, school prayer, campaign finance reform, capital punishment, torture, detainment, electronic surveillance, or pretty much any other controversial public policy issue. And, especially for conservatives who like him, the natural tendency is to presume that he holds exactly the same positions they do. (Then again, I said that about Barack Obama, too, and it didn’t bear out until well after the inauguration.)
MoJo’s Adam Weinstein notes that Bob Dole and others are touting Petraeus and that centrist Republicans are especially enamored of him.
But on further review (and ignoring the obvious concerns about militarism in electoral politics), a Petraeus candidacy might be healthy for the GOP—and for the country. He publicly supported the Obama administration’s now-stalled plan to shutter Guantanamo Bay’s detention facility and end torture. He holds a doctorate from Princeton and has surrounded himself with intellectuals, left and right, in and out of uniform, who embrace out-of-the-box thinking—no small feat in the military’s often stultifying bureaucracy.
Most important, Petraeus has reportedly identified himself as a “Rockefeller Republican,” a rare breed of urbane, educated, big-state social liberal that’s been excommunicated from the Grand Old Party of late (see also Crist, Charlie; Chafee, Lincoln). Since Barack Obama’s election, the GOP has sought to co-opt ultraconservative, right-wing, and Tea Party anger as its brand of choice, effectively marking moderate Republicans as Godless traitors. But who’s going to level such attacks on the uniformed, mythical superman who averted disaster and “pacified” Iraq? He could debate the ins and outs of health care policy without being labeled a socialist. He could shut down military tribunals and expand diplomacy without being called an Al Qaeda sympathist. He could discuss the finer points of social policy without being shouted down as a pinko libertine.
In effect, only someone of Petraeus’ unassailable stature could force mainstream Republicans back to the political center—and whether or not it’s enough to win an election in 2012 or 2016, his candidacy could be an undeniable victory in America’s protracted war with rightist extremism.
A noble thought but, of course, ultraconservatives, right-winger, and Tea Partyers are a large part of the Republican nominating electorate. It’ll be a neat trick winning their support while pulling the party back to the center.