Petraeus and Rumsfeld: Awwwwwwwkward
One thing I didn’t mention in my just-published piece about Gen. David Petraeus’ talk before the Heritage Foundation today: Donald Rumsfeld was there. And it was awkward.
For starters, Rumsfeld is the most inconvenient figure in the GOP foreign-policy establishment, a modern-day Robert McNamara whose name is synonymous with self-deception, outright deception, arrogance and failure.
(Also torture, but that’s getting ahead of myself.)
In no small way, the esteem conservatives hold Petraeus in is directly attributable to his ability to at least somewhat dig the country out of the mess Rumsfeld made of Iraq. His apotheosis is a direct repudiation of Rumsfeld’s career.
For instance, Heritage VP Philip Truluck introduced Petraeus — who greeted Rumsfeld with a warm handshake and beaming smile — as having taken over Iraq “when the war was going badly — I think most people would agree.”
Good thing he qualified that one.
Petraeus was perfectly warm toward the disgraced former defense secretary, even telling a lighthearted anecdote about Rumsfeld sending Petraeus to Afghanistan for a 2004 fact-finding mission and getting a kick out of the odd acronym for the command that trains Iraqi security forces, which is pronounced “Min-sticky.”
But when it came time for Petraeus to talk about what he called his “counterinsurgency big ideas,” there was no way to avoid an unsubtle rebuke.
“Live Our Values” was the title of Petraeus’ eleventh counterinsurgency bulletpoint. What he meant was, Don’t Torture Detainees.
“We put out a letter to our troops” when it seemed like that message needed to be reinforced, he said, referring to his actions after a 2007 study found that the stresses of combat led to an alarming apathy among Iraq-deployed troops for torture. (”This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we — not our enemies — occupy the moral high ground,” Petraeus wrote.)
He also reminded the audience about his role in amending the Army’s detentions field manual to ensure its post-Abu Ghraib compliance with the Geneva Conventions.
As far as I could tell, none of this had any impact on the countenance of the man who headed what a devastating recent book calls a “torture team.”
And surely Rumsfeld is used to public rebuke.
But as Petraeus walked off stage, Rumseld responded with the oddest variation on a handshake I’ve ever seen, reaching over Petraeus’ arm to shake it with his left hand.
Whether he meant it as a signal of displeasure or a signal of dominance — Petraeus had little choice but to go along with the elaborate maneuver — it served as an appropriate signal of awkwardness.
Update: It’s just been pointed out to me by a knowledgeable source that Rumsfeld has just gone through a shoulder-replacement operation on his right arm, and that prevented him from shaking Petraeus’ hand with his own. My apologies, yes, to Rumsfeld for ignorantly suggesting he might have meant to slight Petraeus.