We will all be seeing a lot of David Howell Petraeus today, as he carries Bush’s water to Capitol Hill. Good old Dave! General Petraeus and I happen to go way back — to March 18, 2003. On that date, just before our army stepped off a cliff and into Baghdad, the general was doing pushups on a pier in Kuwait. From the New York Times account:
David H. Petraeus, major general, 50 years old, was face down on a pier in the port of Kuwait, forehead to forehead with Jonathan Aleshire, a 19-year-old private …I knew immediately upon reading this that the general was an asshole. Not only was I a private myself once, I used to be the civil service equivalent of a major general. What’s more, I am also an asshole. Four days before the general waved his weenie on the pier, I waved mine on the internet. I took on George W. Bush in a bench press competition, which I won handily.
At the port, what started out as a backslapping exercise by the general shifted after a good-natured jibe from one of the enlisted soldiers. Suddenly, the slight general — he is 5 feet 9, 150 pounds — was challenging the brawny private to a push-up showdown …
The general dipped to the ground, level as a plank of plywood, but for his head, which was cocked up. He stared at the private as they rose and fell, the private perhaps a half-beat behind the general …
At number 24, a little gasp emerged from the private. The general never blinked. Private Aleshire did another push-up, more like a shove-up, arms wobbling. When he rose for his 26th, he buckled. He was through.
The general continued for at least another 20. When he stood, only a throbbing vein on his neck showed any evidence of exertion. ‘‘You can write that off on your income taxes as an educational expense,’’ General Petraeus told the private.
There are levels of assholedom, however, and a 70-year-old former private humiliating a much younger president on a blog he doesn’t read is a different thing from a middle-aged major general humiliating a teenaged boy under his command — with a New York Times reporter taking notes.
Earlier this year, though, I read Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas E. Ricks. I was wrong about Petraeus. I didn’t like it, but I had to accept it. According to Ricks, he was the closest thing we had to a military genius and an all around good guy besides.
But then came two more stars on Petraeus’s collar, and his agreement to head a surge that he probably knew was ninety percent political and ten percent military. And finally comes today’s performance, during which I can confidently predict that the general will soil himself in public just as Colin Powell did before the United Nations.
And so I was right about Petraeus the first time. The habits of a lifetime — he is considered by probably envious colleagues to be a man who gives great son — are too strong to break.
Still it is sad to see yet another four-star pleaser fail to grasp that rolling over for Bush is like mud-wrestling with a pig — you both get dirty but only the pig likes it.