Alex Massie

President Petraeus Watch

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Not much news came out of Washington last week which doubtless explains why my old chum Toby Harnden used his Telegraph column to chew over the Petraeus 2012 "speculation" one more time. This won't be the last we hear of this, I assure you. Alas, as Toby laments, the good General stubbornly refuses to play along:

The problem is that Petraeus appears to have no desire to be commander-in-chief. His denials of any political ambition have come close to the famous statement by General William Sherman. The former American Civil War commander, rejecting the possibility of running for president in 1884 by stating: "I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected."

Yet speculation about "Petraeus in 2012" persists. The White House is wary of him just as President Bill Clinton was wary of General Colin Powell in 1995. Rumours that he wants to run have even reached Downing Street.

At a recent appearance in New Hampshire - which happens to be the state in which the first presidential primary will be held in January 2012 - Petraeus was emphatic.

"I thought I'd said 'no' about as many ways as I could. I really do mean no," he insisted when asked if he was destined for politics. "I've tried quoting a country song 'What part of 'no' don't you understand?' but I really do mean that...I will not ever run for political office, I can assure you." Almost Shermanesque.

The reason for the persistence of the speculation, of course, has nothing to do with the willingness of newspaper pundits and reporters to, well, speculate about Petraeus making this improbable, unlikely bid for the Presidency.

In October I suggested eight reasons why this isn't going to happen and nothing that's happened since makes me think I was mistaken then.

Let me just repeat one of them: if Petraeus were to run in 2012 he would be running against his own Commander-in-Chief. And the only grounds upon which Petraeus could credibly challenge Obama would be if there'd been some calamitous meltdown in Iraq or Afghanistan at some point in the next 18 months during which the administration consistently spurned the advice of the Joint Chiefs and that this in turn persuaded Petraeus to resign in fury.

One trusts that even those keenest on the Draft Petraeus idea have no real desire to see this happen. Right?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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