Gen. David Petraeus took over as CENTCOM chief at 10 a.m., but don’t count on the White House sending champagne. When the administration had a surge to sell, his superior knowledge of the region, grasp of strategy, and commitment to victory made objections a waste of the great man’s time. Hearings devolved into medal polishing sessions. Moveon.org ventured a lame pun on his name—only to be slapped down by the starstruck Senate. Petraeus for President?” wondered the New York Sun.
What a difference a year makes. In acclimating to his new role as the top American commander in the Middle East, Petraeus thought it might be nice to call on the neighbors. ABC reports that he proposed a trip to Syria—and was immediately shot down by “Bush administration officials at the White House, State Department, and Pentagon.” Instead, they bombed inside Syria’s borders and warned Damascus to “clean up the global threat that is in your back yard.”
ABC goes on to report, “Officials familiar with Petraeus’ thinking on the subject say he wants to engage Syria in part because he believes that U.S. diplomacy can be used to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran.” This isn’t a one off: he told a Heritage Foundation audience earlier this month, “You have to talk to enemies.” Try fitting those lyrics to the tune to “Barbara Ann.”
Now assuming that the CENTCOM boss runs a tight operation, it’s a safe bet that those familiar officials weren’t freelancing. Petraeus wanted his dissent public. Maybe he’s poll watching and the play is cynical; he isn’t a man without ambition. But it’s more likely that even General Surge is squeamish about four more years of a foreign policy all about more boots and more bombs.