"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.