Monday, July 21, 2008

This Is Where General Petraeus Could Change History

Given the reality of the American Presidential race, if General Petraeus wants to continue his military career past the end of the Bush Administration, he's going to have to break with the orthodoxy of the Republican Party when it comes to the war in Iraq and embrace a withdrawal of American troops. Will he do that BEFORE the election and will he, essentially, cut John McCain's legs out from under him in order to extend his own career?

Jason Zengerle picks up the gist of McCain's disastrous exchange with Meridith Viera from this morning:
Here's the key exchange from McCain's interview this morning on NBC's "Today":

Vieira: "Senator Obama's timetable of removing U.S. troops from Iraq within that 16-month period seemed to be getting a thumbs up by the Iraqi prime minister when he called it 'the right timeframe for a withdrawal.' He has backed off that somewhat, but the Iraqis have not stopped using the word timetable, so if the Iraqi government were to say -- if you were President -- we want a timetable for troops being to removed, would you agree with that?"

McCain: "I have been there too many times. I've met too many times with him, and I know what they want. They want it based on conditions and of course they would like to have us out, that's what happens when you win wars, you leave. We may have a residual presence there as even Senator Obama has admitted. But the fact is that it should be -- the agreement between Prime Minister Maliki, the Iraqi government and the United states is it will be based on conditions. This is a great success, but it's fragile, and could be reversed very easily. I think we should trust the word of General Petraeus who has orchestrated this dramatic turnaround. And by the way, we would have been out last march if Senator Obama's original wish would have been called for. Not 16 months from now, but last March. He was wrong on the surge, he was wrong today when he says it didn't succeed. And obviously we have challenges in Afghanistan which will require more troops and more NATO participation, but we can win. If we had lost in Iraq, we would have risked a much wider war that would have put enormous challenges and burdens on our military." [Emphasis added.]

So, basically, the new McCain position on withdrawal seems to be: we shouldn't listen to what the Iraqi government says it wants, we should listen to what McCain says it wants. And, oh yeah, we should listen to Petraeus, too. Mike's counterintuitive point about the long-term impact of Maliki's statement aside, I think that's going to be a tough position for McCain to sustain for the next three months.

Long before that three months are even up, will Petraeus move to align himself with Obama's plan? Is he going to stay out of the fight? Or is he going to align himself with McCain and go down with the ship?

The prospect of staying in Iraq--especially when the Iraqi government doesn't want us there--is a losing issue, no matter what McCain wants us to believe. General Petraeus is like any other General--a politically astute individual who knows that when the civilian government is moving towards a certain policy, it's best not to be seen as being the antithesis of who they want to carry out that policy. It makes it all too easy to replace you with someone who can carry out that policy.


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