Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Petraeus: The troops don’t get to quit when they disagree, so why should I?

It was easy to miss this exchange, which near the end of Gen. Petraeus’ confirmation hearing for CIA last week. It is worth reading closely. GEN. PETRAEUS: …So again, I would come back, if I could, Chairman, to my point, which has to do strictly with the military commander on the ground strictly evaluating, again, ...

Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images

It was easy to miss this exchange, which near the end of Gen. Petraeus' confirmation hearing for CIA last week. It is worth reading closely.

GEN. PETRAEUS: ...So again, I would come back, if I could, Chairman, to my point, which has to do strictly with the military commander on the ground strictly evaluating, again, the military campaign plan in awareness of the strategic context and these other factors that are out there in explicit recognition that others have to evaluate those factors. I cannot do that. Only the president of the United States can assess all of the different considerations.

It was easy to miss this exchange, which near the end of Gen. Petraeus’ confirmation hearing for CIA last week. It is worth reading closely.

GEN. PETRAEUS: …So again, I would come back, if I could, Chairman, to my point, which has to do strictly with the military commander on the ground strictly evaluating, again, the military campaign plan in awareness of the strategic context and these other factors that are out there in explicit recognition that others have to evaluate those factors. I cannot do that. Only the president of the United States can assess all of the different considerations.

And again, I should note that I stated this in the situation room to acknowledge that indeed in this process there are broader concerns than those of the military commander. And as a result, I obviously support the ultimate decision of the commander-in-chief — that is, we take an oath to obey the orders of the president of the United States and indeed do that.

SEN. LEVIN: And if you couldn’t do that — if you couldn’t do that consistent with that oath, you would resign?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, I’m not a quitter, Chairman. And I don’t — I think that that –

SEN. LEVIN: Well, but that’s important — (inaudible).

(Cross talk.)

GEN. PETRAEUS: I’ve actually had people e-mail me and say that, and I actually — this is something that I have thought a bit about.

SEN. LEVIN: I’m sure you have. 

GEN. PETRAEUS: And I don’t think that it is the place for a commander to — actually to consider that kind of step unless you are in a very, very dire situation. This is a — this is an important decision. It is, again, a more aggressive approach than the chairman, General Mattis and I and — would have indeed certainly put forward, but this is not something I think where one hangs up the uniform in protest or something like that.

SEN. LEVIN: Just the final part of this –

GEN. PETRAEUS: You know, if I could continue though, Chairman, I feel actually quite strongly about this. Our troopers don’t get to quit, and I don’t think that commanders should contemplate that, again, as any kind of idle kind of action. That would be an extraordinary action, in my view.

And at the end of the day, this is not about me, it’s not about an individual commander, it’s not about a reputation. This is about our country. and the best step for our country, with the commander- in-chief having made a decision, is to execute that decision to the very best of our ability, to do everything I can during the remainder of my time as commander of ISAF to enable General Allen then to take the effort forward and then, if confirmed, to be the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to do everything I can from that position with that great organization to support the effort as well.

SEN. LEVIN: I think that’s well put, and it’s — very reflective of your character. You are a man of extraordinary honor and we all are in your debt.

(HT to TD)

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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