I don’t know the reasoning inside the Trump campaign’s infatuation with picking retired flag officers for cabinet level posts but they are certainly smitten with the idea. At this writing, Mike Flynn is Trump’s National Security Adviser. James Mattis seems a lock to become Secretary of Defense. Mike Rogers is a frontrunner to be Director of National Intelligence. John Kelly is being touted for Homeland Security. Generally (pun intended), I don’t have a problem with this beyond the atmospherics of Trump assembling a cabinet of military men. My experience with general officers, and it has been pretty substantial, is that they are competent, talented, and if they aren’t brilliant they are damned close to it. Often this is disguised with a public persona (Schwartzkopf and Mattis) that resembles the movie version of George Patton. But don’t be fooled. You don’t rise to the upper ranks of an organization over-populated with hyper-Type-A and driven personalities without having something on the ball. And, truth be told, the only place in America that you are going to find anyone with experience in running a large organization is either in the flag officer ranks or in very large businesses.
That said, we should all be able to agree that the rumored nomination of David Petraeus to be Secretary of State is simply a real bad idea if we want to break from the disastrous foreign policy of the Obama decade. Christine Brim, writing in The Federalist, presents an convincing bill of particulars as to why Petraeus should be rejected by the Trump transition team and, if need by, by the Senate.
The elephant in the room, of course, is how Petraeus exited his post as CIA director: as a convicted felon. He mishandled classified information and then he lied about it. Trump hit Hillary Clinton hard, and rightfully so, on her mishandling of classified information and her perpetual lying about it. It seems hypocritical to appoint a guy who has a federal conviction and who is currently on probation to Secretary of State. There is also the integrity question. If a person will cheat on the person to whom they have sworn before God to be true to, what freakin chance do the rest of us have?
Like many other senior officer who have served in the Middle East, he is totally captured by the Arabist point of view. I don’t know Petraeus but what I’ve read of him indicates to me that he is overly sensitive to Arab sensibilities.
He wrote a scathing op-ed for the Washington Post, expressing his concern that Muslims would be alienated by “inflammatory political discourse that has become far too common both at home and abroad against Muslims and Islam, including proposals from various quarters for blanket discrimination against people on the basis of their religion.”
Petraeus’s op-ed reached CAIR-levels of outrage, scolding “those who flirt with hate speech against Muslims,” “those who demonize and denigrate Islam,” and “demonizing a religious faith and its adherents.” A bravura finger-wagging performance, the op-ed also served as a timely audition for a future Clinton administration, with Petraeus warning “It is precisely because the danger of Islamist extremism is so great that politicians here and abroad who toy with anti-Muslim bigotry must consider the effects of their rhetoric.”
The press made sure voters knew that Petraeus’s op-ed was meant for Trump: “An implicit shot at presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump,” said The Hill; “Though he never mentions Donald Trump by name, Petraeus is clearly talking about Trump,” said HotAir; “Gen. David Petraeus is now auditioning to become Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential pick,” the Washington Times reported; “Petraeus: Be nice to Muslims or They Might Blow Us Up,” wrote The Daily Caller.
I think Petraeus’s view of the threat posed by Islam, radical and garden variety, is simply not supportable based on what we currently know about how it operates. One of the key tasks of the next Secretary of State will be to reimpose the Bush administration rules that limited immigration or travel to the US from nations with a terrorism problem. Petraeus doesn’t seem to be the guy to push that.
Petraeus is also a member of the “blame Israel” crowd. Let me digress for a moment. During my stint in the Pentagon I was stunned to find the vast majority of officers with a “foreign area officer” specialty (I was one for a few weeks before sanity set it) related to the Middle East loathed Israel and were absolutely smitten with the Arabs. When you start digging into it you find a simple reason. The Arab officers were fantastic, and often fantastically wealthy, hosts. They wrote the book on hospitality. The Israelis? Well, not so much. Lots of guys wanted to go to Riyadh, and at the time Damascus. No one wanted Tel Aviv. Petraeus is no exception.
On Jan. 16, two days after a killer earthquake hit Haiti, a team of senior military officers from the U.S. Central Command (responsible for overseeing American security interests in the Middle East), arrived at the Pentagon to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The team had been dispatched by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus to underline his growing worries at the lack of progress in resolving the issue. The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) “too old, too slow … and too late.”
…But Petraeus wasn’t finished: two days after the Mullen briefing, Petraeus sent a paper to the White House requesting that the West Bank and Gaza (which, with Israel, is a part of the European Command — or EUCOM), be made a part of his area of operations. Petraeus’s reason was straightforward: with U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military had to be perceived by Arab leaders as engaged in the region’s most troublesome conflict.
Petraeus is a gun grabber. Period. Why is this important? Because the Secretary of State will have to decide how the United States responds to the unratified Arms Trade Treaty. The Senate will not ratify the treaty but the Secretary of State will have to make rules on how it applies to American companies and decide how to react to the actions of other nations.
The gun grabbing group Petraeus helped to found campaigned against Kelly Ayotte. In fact, it contributed $2.75 million to defeat Republicans
In short, even though Petraeus is a talented and charismatic leader, if he becomes Secretary of State we are looking at an extension of the failed diplomacy of Clinton and Kerry and more toadying to Arab regimes that are neither our friends nor allies. His leanings on domestic policy are clearly those of a progressive Democrat and increasingly the issues State has to deal with have tremendous slop over into domestic politics. Petraeus is a horrible choice for any cabinet official in an Republican administration.