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October 31, 2008

Petraeus to McCain: I'm not your Guy
Posted by Patrick Barry

Yesterday ABC reported that the White House decided to nix David Petraeus' request for a Syrian chit-chat.  Spencer Ackerman thinks this is dumb of the White House, and I'm inclined to agree:

According to ABC, Petraeus believes the Syrians can be cleaved away from the Iranian sphere of influence, which would give the U.S. much more leverage in dealing with Iran. Instead, the Bush administration chose to keep relations frosty and to assassinate an al-Qaeda in Iraq leader across the border into Syria, an act that the Syrians understandably find to be an affront, coupled with a "warning" to the Syrians about "clean[ing] up the global threat that is in your back yard," in the words of one senior official. Now, it may be that killing Abu Ghadiya was the right thing to do. If so, the much more productive course would have been for Petraeus or another U.S. emissary to establish some path of outreach to smooth over rough U.S.-Syrian patches like this one.

I wanted to comment on another point that Spencer alludes to, which is that it's clear from this story that John McCain should never have tried to make David Petraeus an unwilling surrogate in his campaign.  For someone who McCain claims would be among his most trusted counselors, the General doesn't seem to agree with McCain on much of anything.  From the relentless sloganeering about Iraq, to the absurldy simplistic strategy for Afghanistan, and now the silly policy of refusing to engage with a country that has given every indication of its willingess to jump on the western wagon, McCain has taken positions that don't at all jive with Petraeus'.

Faced with this series of disconnects, you could conclude one of two things - either that Petraeus views McCain's chosen positions as strategically thin and would rather not be associated with them or that McCain embraced Petraeus purely for political purposes without any mind to what the General actually thought about anything. One or the other - you pick. 


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or that Petraeus knows which way the wind is blowing at this current moment.

Patrick: while I think you're quite right about Gen. Petraeus' relationship with Sen. McCain's "strategy" re Syria & Iraq, is it really such a good idea to have senior military personnel conducting what amounts to diplomatic initiatives on their own hook? Or is this something better left to the Executive Branch, or the State Dept., say: whose job, one supposes, actual diplomacy is?

Of course, the problem re US/Syria issues is that the Bush Administration has "stayed the course" wrt Syria for most of its tenure: i.e. self-righteous, blinkered (and probably counterproductive) animosity, so Petraeus is definitely ahead of the curve here. Not his job, IMO, but at least somebody is using their head.

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