GOP Candidate-in-Waiting Petraeus’ Machinations Are a Threat to the President’s Civilian Authority
Lincoln had his George McClellan; Truman had his Douglas MacArthur; there’s a history of politically ambitious generals undermining their elected Commander-in-Chief to bolster their own prospects at the presidency. In McClellan’s case, he dragged his feet and lost battles that he should have won, setting the stage for his promise to negotiate an end to the conflict with the Confederacy in his 1864 run for the presidency against Lincoln, a man he privately loathed and irrationally blamed for the Civil War. Fortunately, the self-styled ‘American Napoleon’ lost that election. Dugout Doug MacArthur openly flouted Truman’s orders and tried to widen the Korean War into a war with China, including the use of nuclear weapons, hoping to capitalize on his war hero status to glide to victory over Truman as a Republican in 1952. In both cases, the generals were appropriately fired: McClellan was quietly relieved of his command of the Army of the Potomac in 1862; MacArthur publicly axed by ‘Give ’em hell Harry’ in 1951.
It’s an open secret that CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus lusts to be the GOP presidential candidate in 2012, and thinks he can ride to the White House as an Eisenhower-like hero who ‘won’ the war in Iraq, thanks to his Surge plan, which mostly amounts to bribing warlords with US taxpayer money. However, his CinC President Obama, elected on a promise to end the unpopular Iraq War and concentrate on our collapsing economy, has ordered Petraeus and his deputy, chief US commander in Iraq Gen. Ray Odierno, to have US combat forces out of Iraq within 16 months. Petraeus’ reaction, according to Gareth Porter of the Inter Press Service, was to put pressure on Obama to change his policy, offer to disguise our continued presence in Iraq by calling combat troops ‘support troops,’ and enlist the aid of military brass to push for a continuation of our occupation of Iraq. As Porter notes:
“A network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilising public opinion against Obama’s decision.”
— Gareth Porter, “Generals Seek to Reverse Obama’s Iraq Withdrawal Decision,” Feb. 2, 2009.
It is not up to Petraeus nor any of his deputies to ‘mobilize public opinion’ against a presidential decision, to find ways to keep troops in Iraq contrary to a presidential directive, nor to use their command to enhance their future in politics. (The CENTCOM commander himself would hardly countenance such scheming by a member of his staff.) Petraeus’ only two options, according to the oath he took when he joined the US Army, is to either follow a legal order from the president, or resign his commission; anything else smacks of insubordination. Since it’s unlikely Petraeus will resign, that leaves only one choice for Obama, the same one exercised by Lincoln and Truman before him fire his insubordinate subordinate and replace him with someone who will follow orders.