General David Petraeus sat for another round of interviews in D.C. today following his second round of Capitol Hill hearings, and it's clear he doesn't spend much time in Washington, because he answered one particular question very directly: Are you gunning for political office? Petraeus, the Princeton PhD who has been called out as a shrewed political operator in the past, eschewed the coy non-answers of politicians from Condi to Al Gore and instead responded bluntly with the one word aspiring politicians never use: "Never."
That set up is way longer than the excerpt from tonight's interview with Brian Williams for "NBC Nightly News":
Williams: General, will you ever hold political office in this country?
Petraeus: Never. And I've tried to say that on a number of occasions. Some folks have reminded me of a country western song that says "what part of "no" don't you understand?
So there you have it: Petraeus does not seek political office — at all. Who knows if he'll change his mind — especially under a new administration, where, he said, he'd be open to changes of another kind:
Williams: In your job, you give orders, you also take them from your Commander in Chief. And if your commander in chief said "get out," could you carry that out?
Petraeus: Absolutely. Again, we raise our right hand, we swear to support and defend the constitution of the United States. One of the principles enshrined in the way we do business in the United States is civilian control of the military. There is also responsibility on the part of a commander, of course, to discuss what risks are associated with various courses of action. And I firmly believe, whoever it is, that is elected in the fall, will sit down and look a the various interests, try to figure out, the competing risks because there are risks beyond Iraq.
Petraeus also said that in his mind, the end of the war had actually begun, insofar as the drawdown of forces would trend toward "a thinning out." Of course, he qualified that by saying that it would occur "based on assessments that have been made of the enemy situation, the capabilities of the Iraqi forces [and] Iraqi governance," so who knows.
The full interview airs tonight (or, actually, excerpts from the full interview which will be available following the broadcast on the NBC Nightly News website). We'll add the video and a link to the transcript when it's available.
Update: Here's the video.