Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 30, 2009

PETRAEUS CONTINUES TO REJECT GOP TALKING POINTS.... It didn't generate a lot of attention, but Gen. David Petraeus spoke to Radio Free Europe last weekend, and made some politically salient comments. Specifically, Petraeus endorsed President Obama's decisions on "enhanced interrogation techniques" and closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, explaining that both steps will improve the nation's national security goals.

Yesterday, Petraeus sat down with Fox News' Martha MacCallum, who seemed anxious to bait the head of U.S. Central Command into endorsing the Republicans' national security arguments. He ended up doing largely the opposite. (Crooks & Liars has the video.)

On Guantanamo Bay:

"Gitmo has caused us problems; there's no question about it. I oversee a region in which the existence of Gitmo has indeed been used by the enemy against us. We have not been without missteps or mistakes in our activities since 9/11. And again, Gitmo is a lingering reminder for the use of some in that regard."

On the notion that we should fear Gitmo detainees entering the U.S. justice system:

"...I don't think we should be afraid to live our values. That is what we're fighting for and it's what we stand for. So, indeed, we need to embrace them and we need to operationalize them in how we carry out what it is we're doing on the battlefield and everywhere else. So one has to have some faith I think, in the legal system. One has to have a degree of confidence that individuals that have conducted such extremist activity would indeed be found guilty in courts of law."

On the notion that terrorists might be emboldened because the administration has forsworn Bush-era torture techniques:

"What I would ask is, does that not take away from our enemies a tool, which again they have beaten us around the head and shoulders in the court of public opinion? When we have taken steps that have violated the Geneva Convention, we rightly have been criticized. And so as we move forward, I think it is important to again live our values to live the agreements that we have made in the international justice arena and to practice those."

It's probably not the kind of interview the Cheneys and their allies wanted to see.

Publius raises a good point that shouldn't go overlooked: "I'm a little wary of relying too much on any argument that begins, 'Well, I'm right because General Petraeus says X.' ... And more generally, I don't like the idea of relying heavily on the public statements of active military officials in political policy debates. But I do think this passage shows Petraeus's political dexterity. He's someone who can go on Fox News and articulate Obama's political message, while simultaneously retaining the sympathies of all parties."

Quite right. I'd just add that Petraeus' comments are also politically problematic for President Obama's Republican detractors, who are counting on torture and Gitmo as killer issues for a GOP comeback. In some conservative circles, there's practically a religious reverence for Petraeus, and yet he now has no use for the right's single most important arguments of the day.

For folks like Bill Kristol, there is a temptation to say, "Well, I'm right because General Petraeus says X." Except, in this case, Petraeus has endorsed Obama's position on these issues (as has Bush's Defense Secretary, Bush's chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Bush's Secretary of State).

That doesn't mean Obama and Petraeus are, by definition, correct. It does mean the right's argument is that much more difficult to make, given that a) they're wrong; b) they have no credulity on the issue; and c) their heroes are taking the administration's side.

Steve Benen 11:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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Petraeus has been a political player his entire career.

He knows which way the wind is blowing.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on May 30, 2009 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

Great day in the morning! Was Ms. McCallum even listening to the answers to her questions? I agree, Steve, that the "If Person A says so, it must be true" is a weak line of reasoning. However, there is such a thing as examining the basis of the opinion that Person A offers, and seeing if it has any basis in fact. It is crystal clear from the interview, despite Ms. McCallum's clumsy attempts to lead Gen. Petraeus down a different road, that the guy knows what he's talking about in this case. All former VP Cheney (I join the chorus today reminding you to ALWAYS refer to him as "former" G) has to offer is some memos that, conveniently for him, aren't publicly available. Here, Gen. Petraeus is citing his own actual experience in leading our troops in the Middle East. It's the facts that he offers in support of his opinion that make Gen Petraeus persuasive here.

Posted by: Luke Coley on May 30, 2009 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

The talking points you are going to see will revolve around Petraeus being a good soldier who will support his Commander in Chief at all times. Of course he will be on board with Obama's message -- to do otherwise would risk his career. Never mind that it was under Bush that general after general "retired early" shortly after saying something that didn't support the administration's programs 100%

Posted by: majun on May 30, 2009 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

It's simple. Think: Vietnam, Beirut, Somalia, Guantanomo Bay, etc. It's a stance against ANY form of capitulationism. This time there is a bit of self-preservation involved, perhaps.

Posted by: sunship on May 30, 2009 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

I think you meant "credibility" in point b). As for credulity, the Republicans have tons of credulity when it comes to inane and stupid arguments.

Posted by: Chris on May 30, 2009 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

I can't imagine a general ever saying on Radio Free Europe that torture (or its symbol, Gitmo) is a good thing. But for Fox to think he's going to do an about face on TV is almost as naive, especially since Petraeus' philosophy of war and particularly counterinsurgency is that you have to build trust. Under Bush I suspect he would have avoided talking specifics, but I doubt this is a new way of thinking for him. Odierno, on the other hand...

Posted by: Danp on May 30, 2009 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

A general officer at Petraeus' level is much like a cabinet officer - he serves "at the pleasure of the President". Petraeus can be a good soldier and obey his CINC despite personal misgivings or he can also be a good soldier and resign and then express his opposition to any given policy.

Posted by: f on May 30, 2009 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Petraeus is now a good guy because he toes the line that Obama has drawn ? I thought he was "General Betrayus" to you folks. I suspect that he knows as well as I do that Obama will not close Guantanamo and this is all atmospherics, as is most of Obama's presidency. Keep congratulating yourselves. The whole Obama phenomenon is about baby boomers making themselves feel good by electing a black guy president. By the same token, his popularity will have little to do with his policies, most of which will fail. This is all about image and feeling good. Unfortunately, as Cheney understands, Iran and North Korea have not bought the Obama legend. Neither have the credit markets.

Posted by: Mike K on May 30, 2009 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

mike k writes : "The whole Obama phenomenon is about baby boomers making themselves feel good by electing a black guy president."

last time i looked at the exit polls, obama won all ages groups under 65....i guess cleaning up with the 18-29 demo was them pretending to be baby boomers...except for the fact that pretty much everybody younger than the boomers take regular pot shots at them damn hippies...

obama's approval rating by age via kos
18-29 84%
30-44 60%
45-59 71%
60+ 58%

Posted by: dj spellchecka on May 30, 2009 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Mike K - Do you write this nonsense just so Myke K has something to live for?

Posted by: Danp on May 30, 2009 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

If Petraeus had supported FOX's meme we'd never hear the end of it. He'd be quoted 24/7 but watch how fast he disappears from the FOX airways now. One thing you can count on from FOX...they are never wrong and never make mistakes...just errors.

I'M afraid Fox is stuck with the likes of Rove and Gingrich.(By the way FOX...Bob Nay is now available, whose opinions rank higher than Gingrich).

Posted by: bjobotts on May 30, 2009 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Petraeus can be a good soldier and obey his CINC despite personal misgivings or he can also be a good soldier and resign and then express his opposition to any given policy.

Of course if Petraeus has any misgivings he can keep his mouth shut instead of taking opportunities to go on the media and repudiate Cheney's talking points.

Posted by: AK Liberal on May 30, 2009 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

Insert belly-laugh here

How long until right-wingers start calling him General Betrayus?

Posted by: koreyel on May 30, 2009 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

koreyel, @15:30,

My thoughts, precisely. For him to say what he said, after Faux had defended him so bravely against the MoveOn ad... Inexcusable.

OTOH... To admit that MoveOn had come up with the correct handle? Inconceivable.

Posted by: exlibra on May 30, 2009 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

dj spellchecka, you failed to note that Obama did not do well with the over 70, former Marine Corps officers lounging around in their Frederick's of Hollywood panties while xeroxing different alimony checks and crooning "Those Were The Days My Friend, I Thought They'd Never End" crowd.

Lovely scene when McCallum tried to rip the CIB from the General's chest. And, ALL officers above the grade of Lt. Col are very political. Just ask BlueGirl.

Posted by: berttheclock on May 30, 2009 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

How about those even worse pictures of sodomy and other abuse of prisoners? Gibbs says they don't exist, but real progressives beg to differ ...

Posted by: delver on May 30, 2009 at 4:51 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: mhr on May 30, 2009 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, little mhr. Still making with the old cliched 2008 talking points, I see. Do try to update your material before trolling here again, won't you?

Posted by: Joel on May 30, 2009 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

While we're on the subject of mhr, maybe one of the longtime commenters here can tell me--what's the deal with those occasional things of his that consist of an asterisk and nothing else (like the one at 11:08 am in the "Looking Outside the Republican Coalition" post earlier today)?

Granted, they make more sense than the ones where he uses actual words, but still ... kind of strange.

Posted by: JK on May 30, 2009 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

Vonnegut's asterisk

...what's the deal with those occasional things of his that consist of an asterisk and nothing else...

It's where the thread monitor comes along and replaces a bunch a poop with a picture of its source.

Posted by: koreyel on May 30, 2009 at 9:10 PM | PERMALINK

How you tell when politician lie?

Comrade Pelosi blink

Slick Willy rub nose.

Comrade Obma open mouth

Dumb Donkey Gibbs laugh...Hehaw..he..haw..he..haw!

I Igor produce Barrack Milhaus Hussein Obama Birth Certificate at www.igormaro.org

Posted by: Igor Marxomarxovich on May 30, 2009 at 9:36 PM | PERMALINK

Of course he's a good soldier, why would anyone expect differently? And of course he's a politician, you don't get stars without being one. He will toe the line the President tells him to toe, to do otherwise would be unethical, immoral and career suicide.

But let's remember, no one forced him to go on fox, the testimony that annoyed moveon was compelled by congress, this was purely voluntary. And I don't know a single officer I have spoken to who thinks that gitmo serves a valuable purpose anymore. Five years ago, maybe. And I know a few general officers.

Posted by: Northzax on May 30, 2009 at 10:13 PM | PERMALINK



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