Petraeus & Me (a non-story)

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, U.S. CentCom commander General David Petraeus made the obvious point that the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a strategic problem for the United States. Among other things, he said "the conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger ...

Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Walt-Steve-foreign-policy-columnist20
Stephen M. Walt
By , a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
Elsa/Getty Images
Elsa/Getty Images
Elsa/Getty Images

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, U.S. CentCom commander General David Petraeus made the obvious point that the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a strategic problem for the United States. Among other things, he said "the conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world."

Numerous scholarly studies and government panels-including the 9/11 Commission and the State Department's Advisory Committee on Public Diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim World-have reached similar conclusions. It doesn't mean the U.S. should sever its ties with Israel, of course, and Petraeus never suggested that it did. But that didn't stop Abe Foxman, reality-denying head of the Anti-Defamation League, from misrepresenting and denouncing Petraeus' remarks, without offering a shred of evidence to show that Petraeus was wrong.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, U.S. CentCom commander General David Petraeus made the obvious point that the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a strategic problem for the United States. Among other things, he said "the conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world."

Numerous scholarly studies and government panels-including the 9/11 Commission and the State Department’s Advisory Committee on Public Diplomacy in the Arab and Muslim World-have reached similar conclusions. It doesn’t mean the U.S. should sever its ties with Israel, of course, and Petraeus never suggested that it did. But that didn’t stop Abe Foxman, reality-denying head of the Anti-Defamation League, from misrepresenting and denouncing Petraeus’ remarks, without offering a shred of evidence to show that Petraeus was wrong.

Meanwhile, a few bloggers have discovered that I was a member of the committee that supervised Petraeus’ 1987 doctoral dissertation on the U.S. army and counterinsurgency in Vietnam. Before anyone tries to concoct a Glenn Beck style guilt-by-assocation theory linking Petraeus and me, here’s the skinny:

I knew Petraeus when he was a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton and I was a young Assistant Professor there. His original dissertation committee members were Professors Richard Ullman and Barry Posen, but Posen left Princeton for MIT before the thesis was completed and  I was asked to step in and serve as second reader. Petraeus and I had a number of conversations about his work as he wrapped it up and I hope I gave him good advice, but that was the extent of my involvement in his education.  

I’ve had no contact with General Petraeus in over twenty years. He did visit the Kennedy School last April, but I was unable to attend his talk. In any case, he hardly needed my help to reach the conclusions he offered the Armed Services Committee.  All you need for that is an open mind.

Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University. Twitter: @stephenwalt

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