BROOKLYN — Right now, he’s seasoning in Langley. But five years from now, America is going to want General David H. Petraeus, overwhelmingly, as next President of the United States. Well, not exactly “President.”
Petraeus, first, is the greatest military celebrity of our time. I mean, really — forget the Alamo, remember the Surge! Second, Americans have always loved generals, and Petraeus is the successor to our last great (unrequited) chicken-brass love — General Colin Powell. Remember how we liked Ike, and how we loved Teddy? Chaaaarge!
I know. In ‘04, we flirted with — and spurned — Gen. Wesley Clark, but he doesn’t count. He’s a Democrat. A Democratic general in the U.S. Army is like a two-headed piglet in a twelve-pig litter — more interesting than the other little porkers but nothing you’d want to pick up and cuddle. The last (and only) Democratic general to win was Franklin Pierce in 1852 — whose presidency was universally regarded as a fiasco.
Luckily, Dave’s a Republican. By 2016, he’ll be a shoo-in.
So, let’s not dwell on the fact that Petraeus has never actually won a war. Nowadays, America doesn’t win — or even have — “wars.” We have presidential hissy-fits which, ironically, the Pentagon tends at first to discourage. But these adventures are always egged on by draft-exempt Republicans and rubber-stamped by spineless liberals. Eventually, they become either abortive retreats (Beirut, ‘83, Desert Storm, ‘91) or endless quagmires. The latter tends to be the norm.
We plunge in, raise hell, put up flags and promise to give the natives stuff they don’t understand and can’t digest, like democracy and hamburgers. By and by, inevitably, the invadees, who maybe once welcomed our troops, come to either hate us or depend on us for bribes and jobs (while still, of course, hating us), after which this mutant offspring of executive ego enters its counterinsurgency — or “meatgrinder” — phase. Day after day, a few American kids and a few more of the locals die squalidly while truckloads of U.S. taxes gush down a rathole 10,000 miles from the taxpayers who coughed up the dough (hoping to maybe underwrite better schools, green technology, a college loan or just an unemployment check to get through next week).
For the briefly reluctant military, the silver lining in the classic American quagmire (CAQ) is that it offers West Point’s new breed of philosopher-generals — like Petraeus — cool opportunities to spin new theories of war, like “counterinsurgency,” Gen. Dave’s specialty — which is the Pentagon version of supply-side economics. (The idea, I think, is that, in a war where nobody, anywhere, wants you to stay, you dig in deeper, pass out brochures and say, “OK, we’ll leave. But first, we’re gonna make you like us.”)
Future President Dave has already proved his White House bona fides. He served as a sort of surrogate president after the regular president (Bush) lost interest in all his little wars. This surrogacy tradition dates back to the Sixties, when LBJ and Tricky Dick passed the Vietnam buck to a couple of fall-guy generals, William Westmoreland and Creighton Abrams. Given the same crummy job, Petraeus turned the tables. While Pontius Bush washed quagmire off his hands, Dave stepped up and became an instant media darling. Pretty soon, Petraeus was Bush’s favorite stand-in. Dubya got into the habit of answering every war question by just saying, “Jeez, I don’t know. Ask Dave!”
Petraeus’ ascension, from two-star Pentagon grunt to four-star icon of military intelligence, is one of the blessings of no-win heroism. As we first learned in Korea, a good, lingering CAQ cycles legions of starry-eyed shavetails through the combat zone’s rear echelons, boosting pay, speeding promotions and piling up decorations like cordwood (while very few officers get hurt). Petraeus is the apotheosis of the quagmire era. He struck an awesome figure in recent Congressional testimony. The left side of his tunic was a veritable Las Vegas Strip of medals, service ribbons, citations, unit awards. merit badges and other manly gewgaws. His jewelry made him so lopsided that a bird colonel had to be assigned to sit next to Petraeus, just to keep him from tipping over.
Perhaps Petraeus’ clearest claim to the White House is that he has not only seen the future; he has lived it. The Pentagon wherein Dave thrives has become one of history’s largest corporate cartels. Its business consists almost solely of lobbying Congress for breathtaking amounts of cash, which pump slowly into the development of weapons systems of such magnitude and complexity that they can never possibly be finished, and — if they were — would be useless in any conceivable conflict. This Pentagon structure foreshadows an America oligarchy now being dictated by anti-government zealots funded by the same businesses that feed off the Pentagon: A handful of the rich and powerful reigning over a vast, meek, underpaid peasantry that follows orders blindly.
Petraeus knows his peasantry better than any other Pentagon lord. The armies he has commanded consist only partly of regular soldiers. Outnumbering these loyal volunteers at each U.S. colonial fort are corporate mercenaries and a vast rabble of unmotivated local militias who teeter perpetually on the brink of mutiny. If Dave is as smart as he looks, he has noted that the same unreliable and demoralized mixture of troops characterized the Roman and British Empires as each colossus was dying.
We need Dave in the Oval Office because soon all our wars and outposts are going to be life-sucking quagmires. When Dave takes over, we’ll still be in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and probably Pakistan — and Japan, Korea, Kuwait, Kosovo, Israel, Germany, Bahrain, Guam, Guantánamo, Israel, Greece, Bulgaria, Kygyzstan, Saudi Arabia, Poland, Singapore, Qatar, Holland, Portugal, Turkey, etc. Of all the guys we can send to cheer up the troops, only Dave will have the combat cred to look those poor bastards in the eye and say, no! You’re not the 21st-century version of the forsaken Roman infantry, who were forgotten back home and surrounded in the middle of nowhere by angry mobs, turncoat native troops and cutthroat soldiers of fortune. We’ve got your back. Honest!
As our colonies rebel, as we move from the bourgeois luxury of a Presidency to the feudal necessity of an Emperor, it will be fit and meet that the first guy on the throne has a name that rhymes with Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, Gaius, Commodus…