General David Petraeus can't even travel to his home state of New Hampshire anymore without raising another round of "Will he run for president in 2012?" talk. It's not hard to see why. As chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Petraeus oversees all U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, giving him the executive experience governors only dream of and the gravitas of five senators. Military officials generally join up with the GOP if they enter politics, and Petraeus is indeed registered as a Republican.
A 2012 run would be unlikely. Anyone in the military can tell you it would go against core military beliefs for a serving general to campaign against his commander in chief. For an officer to challenge the authority of his superior is insubordination; to try to unseat that superior is mutiny. But the general is only 58 years old. He still has plenty of time to retire and enter the 2016, 2020, or 2024 presidential contests.
If we're going to play Washington's favorite parlor game, we might as well ask the inevitable question: Would Petraeus really run as a Republican? Testifying Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he articulated policy positions on Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the Bagram detention facility that sounded like planks of the Democratic, not Republican, platform. That's just the beginning of his surprisingly liberal politics:
- Says "the time has come" to consider repealing don't ask, don't tell.
- Opposes sending Guantanamo detainees to the Bagram facility in Afghanistan.
- Supports closing the prison at Guantanamo.
- Opposes "enhanced interrogation" methods like waterboarding.
- Condemns Israel's behavior in the Palestinian conflict as undermining U.S. regional interests.
- Soft on drugs: Has made combating Afghanistan's massive opium trade a low priority.
- Soft on crime: Supports reconciling with Taliban leaders and backed Sunni militias in Iraq's Sunni Awakening.
- Worst of all, he's a big-government liberal: His strategy in Iraq relied on numerous population-centric strategies that are called counterinsurgency when deployed inside a war zone but, if implemented in the U.S., would be called social welfare programs on the scale of FDR's Works Progress Administration or Johnson's Great Society. Petraeus uses government resources to put unemployed locals to work on massive infrastructure projects, he works hard to secure fair political representation for aggrieved minorities, and he builds strong, public social services like hospitals and schools. President Reagan's edict, "government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem," doesn't seem to hold for Petraeus in Iraq. Would it hold for Petraeus in Washington?
Of course, some of the general's Democratic policies could simply reflect that the president is a Democrat and Petraeus respects the chain of command. But it's worth considering that this potential one-day Republican presidential hopeful might be hopeful, and he could even be presidential, but he doesn't look so Republican.
Photo: General Petraeus in Baghdad with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in September 2008. By Jerry Morrison, courtesy U.S. Army.