Tuesday, May 25, 2010
"Gentlemen, what we have here is a constitutional crisis," he said. "If what I've been told is true — and I believe it is — General David Petraeus, a commander with soldiers deployed in two theaters of war, has had multiple meetings with Dick Cheney, the former vice-president of the United States, to discuss Petraeus's candidacy for the Republican nomination for the presidency. And in fact, that's more than a constitutional crisis. That's treason."
One month before, in early January, Congressman Massa had called me and sketched out the bare bones of the tale he was now propounding. Four retired generals, he said — "three four-stars and one three-star" — had picked up disturbing reports that Petraeus, the commander of United States Central Command, whose portfolio contains the worst trouble spots on the globe, including Iraq and Afghanistan, had recently met with Cheney — twice — and Cheney was trying to recruit him to run in 2012. Were he to be the nominee, Massa said, Petraeus would be in the unprecedented position of a military man running for president against his own commander in chief.
"We have to see this for what it is," Massa said, his voice pleading. "There is a reason that we have in this country civilian leadership of the military. It is, among other things, to avoid something like this. Because in order to succeed electorally, General Petraeus must fail militarily. You understand? In order to succeed electorally, he must fail in his mission. Were he to run and win — and if he were to run, he would win in a landslide — we would be witness to an American coup d'état. It is the functional equivalent of the political overthrow of the commander in chief."
The congressman punctuated his sentence with a snort of indignation, followed by a short, high laugh. He searched the three other faces in the room for affirmation, any sign at all that we understood the gravity of the situation, because he had to that point been living alone with this unseemly knowledge. For a moment, he was met with silence. The story Massa had just told was staggering, and confusing. And just who was this man sitting before us? His eyes were wide and his voice thundered and a couple of times he seemed just short of hyperventilating. But if this story that four generals — "people whose names you know, very prominent military men" — had brought to him had any basis in fact, and if Petraeus were deliberately undermining his commander in chief, shouldn't somebody be bellowing about it?