THE PLANK OCTOBER 14, 2009
Alex Massie gives eight reasons why Petraeus is unlikely to run for president in 2012--and why, if he does, he's even more unlikely to win. Four of those reasons can be summed up in two words: Wes Clark.
4. As a general rule, outsiders don't fare too well in the political arena. Eisenhower is an exception, not the rule. And in any case, we're a long way from 1952 and America is a very different, probaby more complicated, place. Plus, for all his achievements Petraeus himself might blush at comparisons with Ike.
5. Related to 4, politics is difficult. Some Democrats thought General Wesley Clark was the answer to their perceived "national security credibility gap" in 2004. He had a pretty good resume after all: Bosnia, NATO chief etc etc. But Clark proved hopeless on the campaign trail and was rarely convincing.
6. National Security isn't enough. Other issues matter too and Presidential elections are rarely single-issue campaigns. 2012 and, even more probably, 2016 are not likely to be a re-run of 2004. At least one hopes not. What does Petraeus have to say on jobs or immigration?
7. 2012 is, I think, a non-runner largely because it would require the general to run against the administration he served. He'd also need to start preparing next year. Last-minute, cobbled-together campaigns rarely fare well. So 2016 it would have to be. and that's so far in the future that, entertaining as such speculation is, it scarcely seems worth thinking about at this stage. [Emphasis added.]
There really is something striking about the conservative pining for Petraeus today and just how similar it is to the liberal fantasizing about Clark (sorry, boss!) ca. 2003. I thought it was a sign of how much trouble Democrats were in four or five years ago when they went through a period of fetishisizing candidates with military backgrounds ( or, as they were called at the time "macho dems"), revealing a party that was trying to substitute biography for credible national security and foreign policies. The apotheosis of this school of thought, of course, was the 2004 Democratic National Convention and John Kerry's "reporting for duty" salute. (Ugh, I cringed watching that again.) We all saw how that turned out.
The fact that Republicans now find themselves in a similar position is kind of shocking, considering the longstanding CW that on, national security matters, they enjoy an inherent advantage over Democrats. But if they feel they need to draft a General to run for president in order to exploit that advantage, I think that suggests the advantage isn't as great as it might seem.