Monday, January 12, 2009

Petraeus: "A vessel in which we can invest our ideological hopes"

Reihan Salam, associate editor of The Atlantic, gives us about as much info. as possible about a President Petraeus -- which is, not much. At this point, the General is more Symbol and less Person, let alone political figure.

Petraeus has reportedly described himself as a "Rockefeller Republican," which tells us virtually nothing. It could mean that he is a social liberal or that he is fanatical about balanced budgets or both.

He is attractive to Republicans because he is, like Colin Powell in 1996 and Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, an unknown quantity, a vessel in which we can invest our ideological hopes. At the same time, he is intimately familiar with the limits of American power and the nature of the strategic challenges we face.

There is every reason to believe that we are about to enter an era of renewed geopolitical competition. This will require deft handling of rising powers, but also close attention to the economic source of our strength. Who better to lead us through it than our most celebrated military leader? It helps that Petraeus, like McCain and to a lesser extent Obama, has no real regional or sectarian identity. He is a national figure with the prestige and the experience to drag Republicans into the post-Obama era.

If you want to read a thorough profile of Petraeus, read Steve Coll's piece, which ran in September's New Yorker.

Petraeus is registered to vote as a Republican in New Hampshire—he once described himself to a friend as a northeastern Republican, in the tradition of Nelson Rockefeller—but he said that around 2002, after he became a two-star general, he stopped voting.

Coll's isn't so much a political profile as it is a personal one. Sometimes, you can tell a lot about how a gentleman would run a campaign and country by how he runs his life... and oh yes, a war.