Thursday, March 25, 2010

"If nominated, I will run to Mexico. If elected, I will fight extradition."

Ok, so Dave Petraeus' "Shermanesque statement" wasn't nearly so entertaining as Mo Udall's in 1980, but the general was pretty clear that he's not interested in being president.
"I thought I’d said no about as many ways as I could. I really do mean no. We have all these artful ways of doing it. I’ve tried Shermanesque responses, which everybody goes and finds out what Sherman said was pretty unequivocally no. I’ve done several different ways. I’ve tried quoting the country song, ‘What Part of No Don’t You Understand?’ I mean, I really do mean that. I feel very privileged to be able to serve our country. I’m honored to continue to do that as long as I can contribute, but I will not, ever, run for political office, I can assure you. And again, we have said that repeatedly and I’m hoping that people realize at a certain point you say it so many times that you could never flip, and start your career by flip-flopping into it."
(Now if only we could get Condi Rice to do the same thing!)

By way of comparison, here's what Sherman said when pressured to run in 1871:
"I hereby state, and mean all that I say, that I never have been and never will be a candidate for president; that if nominated by either party I should peremptorily decline; and even if unanimously elected I should decline to serve."
This is more often rendered, somewhat more poetically, as "if nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve."

Some people just can't take no for an answer, though. In 1884, the folks at the Republican convention sent Sherman a telegram that basically said dude, we don't care, we're nominating you. According to this book,
Sherman's son Tom later recalled his father's response to this telegram: "Without taking his cigar from his mouth, without changing his expression, while I stood there trembling by his side, my father wrote the answer, 'I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.'"
A touch more unequivocal, I suppose. Anyway, seems to me Petraeus might do a little better in the South.

I don't understand why people continually rally behind certain non-political individuals like Petraeus and Rice when their views on a broad range of issues relevant to the presidency are completely obscure (or, in the latter case, apparently flexible). Maybe it's a reflection of our deep dissatisfaction with with the political class and with the status quo that we're so eager to elect people without having a damned clue what they believe.

10 comments:

  1. Gulliver - by people do you mean pundits who have to write something day-to-day, like, say, bloggers? This seems to be a pundit and media driven "story."

    - Madhu

    :)

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  2. by people do you mean pundits who have to write something day-to-day, like, say, bloggers? This seems to be a pundit and media driven "story."

    Sure, they constitute a slice of "people." But I also mean people at cocktail parties, callers on talk radio (I assume), and you know, "people" like, say, blog commenters!

    You don't remember all the people who were raving for Condi Rice to run?

    Or all the people who don't have any traffic- or output-related reasons to shill for Petraeus, like, say, Peter King? Or Bob Dole?

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  3. I wish he would run. It would be better than trying to use his uniform to influence policy. If he wants to be a policy maker, he should run for office. If he doesn't, he should respect civil-military norms.

    There is nothing honorable about wanting the influence, but not wanting to have to put your views before the citizenry.

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  4. Bernard -- I thought you'd show up for this one. While I occasionally agree with you that certain of GEN Petraeus' statements and actions have a whiff of inappropriateness to them, I don't share your opinion that he disrespects "civil-military norms" or seeks to unduly influence policy. After all, it's up to his civilian masters to control his influence, and if they're unhappy with his performance, they can act.

    You don't really "wish he would run"; you instead wish he would just shut up, and/or advocate the sort of foreign policy that you believe is most appropriate.

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  5. Except that he is a national hero. He gave us "victory" in Iraq. Controlling him is not cost-free.

    But on the other point, no, I really would like to see him run. I happen to agree with him wholly on his statements on Israel-Palestine, but more generally, he's smarter than the average bear, and a Petraeus v. Obama election in 2012 would almost certainly be the most civil and thoughtful election possible. We'd actually come out of the experience smarter rather than dumber as a nation.

    I don't happen to agree with Petraeus on the merits of pop-centric COIN, but that is a pretty esoteric debate in the grand scheme of things. I imagine, actually, I'd probably agree with him on more issues that I would disagree.

    That said, I do feel that he is too willing to play on his ribbons and stars and is not sufficiently respectful of the norms of civil-military relations. I've laid out my concerns on that score many times, so no need to repeat them. I think Petraeus is a net plus to our public debates. However, I wish he would do it as a retired GO rather than as a sitting CoCom.

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  6. "I don't understand why people continually rally behind certain non-political individuals..."

    Because they're sick of politicians.

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  7. Wait sorry...Rice is non-political? I must have been on LSD during the Bush presidency - particularly the first term - because I was under the evidently false impression that she was one of the most political high-level national security officials this country has ever had the displeasure of knowing.

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  8. Depends. Was it the purple LSD or the green LSD? The green stuff was giving people some bad trips.

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  9. Wait sorry...Rice is non-political? I must have been on LSD during the Bush presidency - particularly the first term - because I was under the evidently false impression that she was one of the most political high-level national security officials this country has ever had the displeasure of knowing.

    When I say "political," I mean that she was a foreign policy bureaucrat, not a professional politician. She didn't have a platform. In fact, when she came into the Bush Administration, she was wildly non-ideological... even on foreign policy questions. She changed over time as she determined that orthodoxy and loyalty to the Administration were more important than loyalty to her first principles, to her study of the discipline... but Condoleezza Rice was an academic and a functionary, not a politician or and ideologue.

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  10. I second the veto on the notion that Petraeus is apolitical. He might be the most politicized general since MacArthur.

    Whether he's partisan is a different matter. I suspect that we'll find out when he retires.

    SNLII

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