Petraeus’ 450-Word Version of “No”

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During his confirmation hearing in the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday, California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Gen. David Petraeus whether he supported President Obama’s timetable to withdraw over 30,000 troops from Afghanistan. Rather than say “No,” he delivered this impenetrable monologue.

The responsibility of a combat commander in that kind of situation is to provide options to the president to implement his stated goals. And that is what I did. Associated with each of those options was an assessment of risk, the risk being assessed in this case, from my perspective, risk having to do with the ability to achieve the objectives of the military campaign plan, acknowledging that at every level of the chain of command above me there are additional considerations, and that each person above me – all the way up to and including the president – has a broader purview and has broader considerations that are brought to bear, with the president alone in the position of evaluating all of those different considerations, including certainly those of the commanders on the ground, but also certainly many others as well, in reaching his decision. I provided such options. I provided assessments of risk. I provided recommendations. We discussed all of this, again, at considerable length. The president then made a decision.  The commander-in-chief had decided, and it is then the responsibility, needless to say, of those in uniform to salute smartly and to do everything humanly possible to execute. Now as Chairman Mullen, Admiral Mullen stated today before the House Armed Services Committee, the ultimate decision was a more aggressive formulation in terms of the timeline than what we had recommended. Again, that is understandable in the sense that there are broader considerations beyond just those of the military commanders. The fact is that there has never been a military commander in history who has had all the forces he would like to have, or all the time, all the money, and all the authorities, and nowadays, all the bandwidth as well. So there is always a process of assessing risk. And that is typically, in a case like this, as the chairman put it today, risk at the margin. We are talking about small differences here, albeit significant from a military commander point of view. So that is how I would lay out, again, the process that took place, the very good discussion. This was indeed vigorous. All voices were heard in the Situation Room, and ultimately the decision has been made, and with the decision made, I support it and will do all that I can during my remaining time as the commander of ISAF to implement it, set up Gen. Allen to do likewise, so that we can achieve the objective of the campaign plan, and then also, if confirmed, as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to do the same from that position as well.

There is a lot of speculation about whether Petraeus might have a future in politics. I’d say he would do fine in that career. He’s not even in the Senate and he’s already mastered the art of the filibuster.