The conservative British newspaper, The Telegraph, has named its top 100 most influential conservatives (and top 100 liberals), and coming in at #2 on the conservative list -- right behind Rudy Giuliani, and just ahead of Matt Drudge, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh:
When Generals behave properly -- in the apolitical manner that is required of them -- it is difficult to predict what their political affiliation and ideology are. Few people would have been able to say with any confidence what political ideology was embraced by, say, General Casey, or General Abizaid, or even General Wes Clark when they were on active duty, commanding America's military forces. That's because they behaved properly, that is to say apolitically, and one could only engage in wild guesses -- if even that -- in trying to determine their partisan sympathies.
But not with Petraeus. I doubt anyone would find much cause to disagree with his inclusion on the "conservative" list, sitting comfortably between such hard-core partisans as Giuliani, Drudge, Gingrich and Limbaugh. Nor did anyone (at least that I heard) object when William Safire, on last week's Meet the Press, chose Gen. Petraeus as the most likely Republican Vice Presidential nominee to run with Mitt Romney. The other two choices were Mike Huckabee and John McCain.
In the paragraph following the one excerpted above, The Telegraph (which, as a right-wing newspaper, is clearly a fan of Gen. Petraeus), goes on to assure us that "Petraeus, as a professional soldier, has properly stayed away from the political arena" -- a rather inane claim in light of their certainty that he is a political comrade of Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh. Contradicting itself, it then proceeds to acknowledge: "Petraeus's pronouncements on the war on terror, and the clear thrust of his impressive testimony on Capitol Hill last month, place him firmly in the Republican camp" concerning the war in Iraq and "war on terrorism."
The widely-held view that Petraeus is a Republican is plainly the by-product of his conduct. After all, one can hardly presume that mere military service means that someone is a Republican or a "conservative". Quite the contrary, as Steve Benen documented recently, numerous indicators demonstrate that "members of the U.S. military have dramatically increased their political contributions to Democrats, marching sharply away from the party they've long supported":
In 2002, the last full cycle before Bush launched the Iraqi invasion, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics found that 23% of military members' contributions went to Democrats. So far in 2007, that number is 40%.
More specifically, the drop-off for Republican support within the Army is striking. Before the war, 71% of Army campaign contributions went to the GOP. This year, that number is down to 51%. So, the GOP's advantage went from more than 2-to-1 before the war, to near-parity now.
And, as Benen notes, even among the uniformed military's contributions to Republicans, the leading recipient is the anti-war candidate Ron Paul. There is nothing close to a pro-GOP uniformity among members of the military, thus demonstrating that the perception of Gen. Petraeus as a Republican loyalist and "conservative" (meaning in this sense: embracing Bush/Cheney political views) is due to his own highly politicized comments and behavior.
Since he took over as commander in Iraq, Gen. Petraeus and his subordinates have repeatedly engaged in conduct that is the hallmark of partisan actors. That is what made the spectacle of formal Congressional condemnation of MoveOn and the accompanying Petraeus-canonization rituals so misguided and wrong -- while acting in the most overtly political ways possible, he and his supporters demand that he be treated as some sort of transcendent apolitical figure. As the Petraeus-revering Telegraph inadvertently demonstrates, Gen. Petraeus and his top-level aides in Baghdad are anything but apolitical and nonpartisan, and their statements and behavior ought to be viewed as such.
UPDATE: By way of contrast, consider this 1994 Time article examining the possibility that the then-highly popular, recently retired Gen. Colin Powell might run for political office, yet nobody had any idea whether he'd be more likely to run as a Democrat or a Republican. And there was equal uncertainty about Gen. Wesley Clark's political ideology and partisan leanings prior to the time he began to be politically engaged after his retirement from active duty. But there is no such uncertainty about Gen. Petraeus, who -- along with his top, handpicked aides -- sounds and acts as much like a partisan operative as any other component of the GOP machine.