Monday, October 5, 2009

A lowered profile

Gen. David H. Petraeus was the face of the Iraq troop surge.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the face of the Iraq troop surge and a favorite of former President George W. Bush, spoke up or was called upon by President Obama “several times” during the big Afghanistan strategy session in the Situation Room last week, one participant says, and will be back for two more meetings this week.

But the general’s closest associates say that underneath the surface of good relations, the celebrity commander faces a new reality in Mr. Obama’s White House: He is still at the table, but in a very different seat.

“General Petraeus has not hinted to anyone that he is interested in political life, and in fact has said on many occasions that he’s not,” said Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel and professor of military history at Ohio State University who was the executive officer to General Petraeus when he was the top American commander in Iraq.

“It is other people who are looking at his popularity and saying that he would be a good presidential candidate, and I think rightly that makes the administration a little suspicious of him.”

Difficult to conceive of a candidacy based solely on the troop surge. If troop levels have been reduced in Iraq and Afghanistan stabilizes a bit by 2011, any life in that candidacy will be gone.

General Petraeus’s advisers say he has stepped back in part because Mr. Obama has handpicked his own public face for the war in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who last week gave an interview to CBS’s “60 Minutes,” met with Mr. Obama on Air Force One and used a speech in London to reject calls for scaling back the war effort.

If anything, General McChrystal’s public comments may prove that General Petraeus might be prudent to take a back seat during the debate. On Sunday, when CNN’s John King asked Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, if it was appropriate for a man in uniform to appear to campaign so openly for more troops, General Jones replied, “Ideally, it’s better for military advice to come up through the chain of command.”

Ideally, indeed. Making a speech in public to lobby for his selected policy might be a bit out of line for an active general.

“He understands the Congress better than any military commander I’ve ever met,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican, who said that General Petraeus had the nationwide influence to serve as a spokesman for the administration’s policy on the Afghan war.

But until the president makes a decision, and determines if he wants to deploy General Petraeus to help sell it, the commander is keeping his head down. “He knows how to make his way through minefields like this,” said Jack Keane, the former vice chief of staff of the Army.

In the London Telegraph, a different take on Gen Stanley McChrystal's speech.

Barack Obama angry at General Stanley McChrystal speech on Afghanistan

The relationship between President Barack Obama and the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan has been put under severe strain by Gen Stanley McChrystal's comments on strategy for the war.

US General Stanley McChrystal

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