A Telling Response from Petraeus

by Daniel Foster

Interesting moment in General Petraeus’s CIA confirmation hearing before the Senate. Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.), I take it, wanted to establish that President Obama’s Afghanistan timeline, while not the preference of theater commanders, was reasonable and doable. So he asked Petraeus, paraphrasing, ‘Wouldn’t you resign if you felt uncomfortable executing the president’s order?’

Petraeus’s response was impassioned. “I’m not a quitter,” he said, adding that he has “thought a lot” about the question and “felt strongly about” it. “I don’t think that is the place for a commander to consider that kind of step unless you are in a very, very dire situation,” Petraeus said.

Levin quickly realized he was losing control of the rhetorical point and tried (gently) to cut Petraeus off, but the general insisted on elaborating. Petraeus said that since our troops don’t have the option of quitting, he doesn’t think he does either. It isn’t acceptable, he added, for a commander to resign “in protest” of an order he disagrees with.

Basically, Levin inadvertently got Petraeus to say that even if he hated the Obama order — even if he thought it was substantially wrong — he’d carry it out.

Good soldier, and from my novice’s point of view, I agree with what he says. But supporters of the drawdown like Levin aren’t going to be able to get Petraeus’s unvarnished imprimatur.

NB: After Petraeus yielded that the Obama timeline poses a “greater risk to the accomplishment of the various objectives” of the war than options recommended by theater commanders, Sens. Rubio and McCain both tried to get Petraeus to explain why the September 2012 date — halfway through the “fighting season” — was chosen. Was there a military or strategic significance to that date? Petraeus replied that it wasn’t military conditions, but “risks having to do with other considerations” that led to the Obama administration’s decision. But he repeatedly refused to elaborate on what those other considerations are. I’ll give you three guesses.

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