We now learn that General David Petraeus fancies himself a Dwight Eisenhower for the 21st century.
According to a report in London’s Independent newspaper by the reliable Middle East observer Patrick Cockburn, the U.S. military viceroy in Iraq would like very much to return from his mission and — like the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe during World War II and of North Atlantic Treaty Organization in its aftermath — mount a bid for the White House.
Petraeus has apparently been so open in expressing his “long-term interest in running for the US presidency” that Sabah Khadim, a former senior adviser at Iraq’s Interior Ministry who worked closely with the general in Baghdad, recalls, “I asked him if he was planning to run in 2008 and he said, ‘No, that would be too soon’.”
Such are the political calculations of the man whose embrace of President Bush’s war has become so complete that he and his aides have radically altered the manner in which statistics are gathered on violence in Iraq in order to foster the fantasy that the fight has taken a turn for the better.
“General Petraeus has a reputation in the US Army for being a man of great ambition. If he succeeds in reversing America’s apparent failure in Iraq, he would be a natural candidate for the White House in the presidential election in 2012,” explains Cockburn. “His able defense of the ‘surge’ in US troop numbers in Iraq as a success before Congress this week has made him the best-known soldier in America. An articulate, intelligent and energetic man, he has always shown skill in managing the media.”
The problem, of course, is that Petraeus’s “open interest in the presidency” might, Cockburn suggests, “lead critics to suggest that his own political ambitions have influenced him in putting an optimistic gloss on the US military position in Iraq “
It is Petraeus’s willingness to apply the optimistic gloss that marks him as a worthy successor to George Bush, who in Thursday night speech to the nation pronounced himself well and truly pleased with his general’s recitation of the administration’s talking points. Based on general’s testimony, Bush is claiming “success in meeting (our) objectives.”
The president’s “return on success” is an empty promise that a small number of troops already scheduled for withdrawal from Iraq may, in fact, be withdrawn. At the same time, however, Bush acknowledges that this “success will require U.S. political, economic, and security engagement that extends beyond my Presidency.”