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Steve Clemons

Steve Clemons

Posted: August 31, 2007 06:20 PM

Keep Eyes On Petraeus: Could Be the Republicans' Wesley Clark of 2012


Petraeus.jpg

There is informal discussion among some in the military set -- and increasingly among some pols -- that General David Petraeus could be an interesting presidential prospect on the Republican side of the line a few years from now.

This is all speculation -- very little grounded in anything serious -- but the prospects of a "draft Petraeus" plan, though embryonic, triggered a Chatham House rules discussion today that I participated in in Chicago after I brought up Bill Gertz's "Draft Tommy Franks for VP in 2008" article that appeared today.

To get a sense of how "not" viable the Gertz proposal is, re-read Spencer Ackerman's article on General Franks from August 2004 titled "Vision Impaired."

But the same is not true of US Commander in Iraq David Petraeus -- no matter what the outcome of his testimony before Congress in September on the results of the surge or the long-term outcome of the Iraq War.

In fact, Petraeus may actually be helped in any hidden presidential aspirations he may hold if things continue to deteriorate in Iraq and the Dems take the White House in November 2008.

The scenario runs something like this.

Petraeus -- who both Dems and Republicans liked when he was perceived to be a highly competent, underappreciated expert on counter-insurgency and who was punished by Rumsfeld and exiled far from the front line action to do his work in Leavenworth, Kansas -- won't be blamed for the deteriorating mess in Iraq.

Things continue to go badly. Petraeus holds his finger in the dyke preventing total breakdown in Iraq and convulsing violence, but the Dems win the White House in 2008. Let's just say Hillary Clinton wins, but I think the scenario holds for either Edwards or Obama.

Hillary Clinton and two chambers of Congress are now fully responsible for unwinding the Iraq War and managing America's position in the Middle East. No matter how one looks at the problem, there is no silver bullet solution to preserve America's interests where they were. There will be costs. Some Sunni governments in the region could fall. A regional conflagration could begin to heat up. A high-level assassination of a moderate Sunni Arab leader in Jordan, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia could start a raging new regional, if not global, war.

But not even considering the more nasty, sensational scenarios -- Clinton or Obama or Edwards and their Democratic partners in Congress are going to have a terrible mess that will likely deteriorate further before some equilibrium is found.

There will be "plenty" by that time to blame on Hillary and the Dems in the Middle East -- and thus, a new balanced, more pragmatic and judicious voice is needed -- someone who understands how to deploy power and understands the evolving contours of non-state, radicalized, Islamic extremist violence.

He may be earning his political chits with Bush and company now.

Petraeus would be the Republican's version of a Wesley Clark -- a new Eisenhower. . .perhaps (though one senior retired military friend of mine nearly tossed it up when the comparison to Eisenhower whom he admires came up).

There are lots of problems with this scenario, but some folks are beginning to chew on it. Watch for David Petraeus in 2012. And watch for him to tell reporters who ask him about this, "I have no intentions to run for president at this time. . . "

-- Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note