In the American Spectator, Philip Klein has a big cover story on General David Petraeus, focusing on whether or not he could change his mind and run for president. Obviously, the General has said over and over again that he won’t, but still…
Right now, the country is focused on domestic issues, but things can change, and at some point in the future a crisis may draw Americans’ attention back to national security. This could create demand for a Petraeus candidacy — perhaps making him reconsider, like Eisenhower, out of a sense of duty. And perhaps he’d master the art of campaigning in the same way in which he’s learned to excel at everything else he’s focused on over the course of his career.
It’s a good long piece, but it doesn’t quite answer the question of whether it would be good for the Republican Party or for the conservative movement for a Petraeus candidacy to take place. I do know that Klein is very much devoted to the cause of stopping a Romney candidacy, producing post after column after post on why he sees a Romney candidacy as a bad idea. In particular, Klein believes a Romney candidacy would mean the continued nationalization of healthcare, because Romney can’t effectively oppose the most unpopular parts of Obama’s bill. Fair enough, but forgive me for thinking that Petraeus would be no more likely to repeal Obamacare than Romney. He’d probably be less likely to introduce major reforms, because he’d probably keep more of a focus on foreign policy, and let the HHS bureaucracy run itself, no?
And then there’s that other question: namely, how are General Petraeus’s foreign policy achievements going to look in 2012? Now, by sheer coincidence, the very entertaining and over-the-top polemicist David Goldman, aka Spengler, had a post on that very topic yesterday at the Asia Times. He smashes the furniture more than a bit in his column, but there is a point in there somewhere.
Petraeus’ formulation [CENTCOM's statement on March 16 that "Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world"] lends respectability to the fanciful idea that Iran would listen to reason if only Israel would stop building apartments in East Jerusalem. Echoing Petraeus, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on April 27, “Heretofore, the lack of progress in the peace process has provided political ammunition to our adversaries in the Middle East and in the region, and that progress in this arena will enable us not only to perhaps get others to support the peace process, but also support us in our efforts to try and impose effective sanctions against Iran.”
Like Alice in Wonderland, the U.S. administration is trying to play croquet with flamingos and hedgehogs. If only the hedgehog would hold still, Gates complains, Washington could hit it with a flamingo.
That’s… one way of putting it. The trouble with Petraeus is the same; he is in charge of running major parts of Obama’s foreign policy agenda. We should all wish him well at his post. But if the major moving parts of Obama’s Mideast policy in particular are incoherent, then how will their incoherence made manifest in a major crisis make the case for Petraeus for President?
In 1995, extended speculation in the conservative press over the possibility of a Colin Powell candidacy did not help one bit when it came to derailing Bob Dole’s doomed ascension, or coming up with a post-1994 policy agenda. Let’s not make the same mistake twice.
Ideas before personalities.