Petraeus endorses talking to U.S. enemies

PETRAEUS ENDORSES TALKING TO U.S. ENEMIES…. One of the few areas of substance that John McCain has engaged Barack Obama on is diplomacy with unfriendly rivals. McCain believes it would serve our interest to give countries like Iran the silent treatment, while Obama, bolstered by most of the bipartisan foreign policy establishment, believes the opposite.

As it turns out, Gen. David Petraeus spoke to the Heritage Foundation this week and was asked, in reference to a discussion between the presidential candidates, about the utility of diplomacy with rivals. Petraeus said he hoped to steer clear of “domestic politics,” but nevertheless said, “I do think you have to talk to enemies…. I mean what we did do in Iraq ultimately was sit down with some of those that were shooting at us. What we tried to do was identify those who might be reconcilable.”

Petraeus, as Spencer Ackerman reported, added some caveats, noting that it’s “necessary to have a particular goal for discussion and to perform advance work to understand the motivations of his interlocutors.”

By any reasonable measure, Petraeus’ position is practically identical to Obama’s position.

Greg Sargent noted the significance of the context: “[T]he question Petraeus was asked was basically the same as him being asked whose views he endorsed when it comes to the two men’s very public disagreement. Petraeus’ own joke about not wanting to wade into ‘a minefield’ and his allusion to not getting ‘involved in domestic politics’ would suggest that that’s how he saw the question, too. And Petraeus more or less picked the Obama argument.”

I’d just add that Petraeus’ background on this is highly relevant. As part of his policy in Iraq, Petraeus reached out to Iraqis who were literally responsible for killing Americans. Forget bluster and bravado from guys like Ahmadinejad and Castro; Petraeus negotiated with those who had American blood on their hands, precisely because he kept the bigger picture in mind.

And in this sense, McCain’s position is even further from the foreign policy mainstream.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.