Petraeus continues to reject GOP talking points

PETRAEUS CONTINUES TO REJECT GOP TALKING POINTS…. It didn’t generate a lot of attention, but Gen. David Petraeus spoke to Radio Free Europe last weekend, and made some politically salient comments. Specifically, Petraeus endorsed President Obama’s decisions on “enhanced interrogation techniques” and closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, explaining that both steps will improve the nation’s national security goals.

Yesterday, Petraeus sat down with Fox News’ Martha MacCallum, who seemed anxious to bait the head of U.S. Central Command into endorsing the Republicans’ national security arguments. He ended up doing largely the opposite. (Crooks & Liars has the video.)

On Guantanamo Bay:

“Gitmo has caused us problems; there’s no question about it. I oversee a region in which the existence of Gitmo has indeed been used by the enemy against us. We have not been without missteps or mistakes in our activities since 9/11. And again, Gitmo is a lingering reminder for the use of some in that regard.”

On the notion that we should fear Gitmo detainees entering the U.S. justice system:

“…I don’t think we should be afraid to live our values. That is what we’re fighting for and it’s what we stand for. So, indeed, we need to embrace them and we need to operationalize them in how we carry out what it is we’re doing on the battlefield and everywhere else. So one has to have some faith I think, in the legal system. One has to have a degree of confidence that individuals that have conducted such extremist activity would indeed be found guilty in courts of law.”

On the notion that terrorists might be emboldened because the administration has forsworn Bush-era torture techniques:

“What I would ask is, does that not take away from our enemies a tool, which again they have beaten us around the head and shoulders in the court of public opinion? When we have taken steps that have violated the Geneva Convention, we rightly have been criticized. And so as we move forward, I think it is important to again live our values to live the agreements that we have made in the international justice arena and to practice those.”

It’s probably not the kind of interview the Cheneys and their allies wanted to see.

Publius raises a good point that shouldn’t go overlooked: “I’m a little wary of relying too much on any argument that begins, ‘Well, I’m right because General Petraeus says X.’ … And more generally, I don’t like the idea of relying heavily on the public statements of active military officials in political policy debates. But I do think this passage shows Petraeus’s political dexterity. He’s someone who can go on Fox News and articulate Obama’s political message, while simultaneously retaining the sympathies of all parties.”

Quite right. I’d just add that Petraeus’ comments are also politically problematic for President Obama’s Republican detractors, who are counting on torture and Gitmo as killer issues for a GOP comeback. In some conservative circles, there’s practically a religious reverence for Petraeus, and yet he now has no use for the right’s single most important arguments of the day.

For folks like Bill Kristol, there is a temptation to say, “Well, I’m right because General Petraeus says X.” Except, in this case, Petraeus has endorsed Obama’s position on these issues (as has Bush’s Defense Secretary, Bush’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Bush’s Secretary of State).

That doesn’t mean Obama and Petraeus are, by definition, correct. It does mean the right’s argument is that much more difficult to make, given that a) they’re wrong; b) they have no credulity on the issue; and c) their heroes are taking the administration’s side.