The Petraeus Pushback: General Says He Never Made Those Statements on Israel

By Lindsey Ellerson

Mar 26, 2010 5:54pm

ABC News' Kitty Harvey reports:

Army General David Petraeus, the commander of Central Command, says comments attributed to him on the Foreign Policy blog on March 13th—that “Israeli intransigence…was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region”—were simply inaccurate.

The Foreign Policy blog reported that Petraeus dispatched senior military officers in January to brief Chairman of the Joint Chief of State Admiral Mike Mullen about the effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on American operations in the region.  According to the blog, these briefers indicated there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was “incapable of standing up to Israel” and that Arab leaders were “losing faith in American promises.”  The blog further stated that Petraeus sent a request to the White House for the transfer of the Palestinian territories to CENTCOM (they’re currently in European Command, or EUCOM) so that the U.S. military could appear “engaged in … the conflict.”

Moreover, the blog asserts that the recent dust-up between Vice President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, as reported by an Israeli newspaper, “reflected the importance the administration attached to Petraeus’s Mullen briefing.”  The Israeli newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, reported that Vice President Biden told Netanyahu earlier this month, following the Israeli announcement of its plans to build 1600 new homes in East Jerusalem, that “What you’re doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  That endangers us and it endangers regional peace.”

In fact, the vice president denied saying that. “No, I never said that,” the vice president told ABC News’ Jake Tapper last week.  “Here's what I said, though:  The truth of the matter is that the status quo does impact on our interest not only between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but in the Arab world and beyond….It puts in jeopardy not the lives of Americans, but, ‘OK, United States, you say you really care about this, what are you doing.  What are you doing?’  And to that extent it impacts on us.”

As for the accuracy of the statements attributed to Petraeus or the alleged CENTCOM briefing?  They’re “flat wrong,” Petraeus says.  Responding to a question from the American Spectator while speaking at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, the General said there was never any “mention of [America] lives” in any of his statements.  So what did he say?  Petraeus explained  that he had submitted a document in which he described the “various factors that influence the strategic context in which” American troops operate in CENTCOM. 

And the Middle East peace process, he said, is one such factor that influences the environment—but is one of many, also including “a whole bunch of extremist organizations” as well as “a country that has a nuclear program”—meaning Iran.  “We have all the factors in there,” he said, and the Middle East peace process “is just one.”

Petraeus further stated that he never asked for the West Bank and Gaza Strip to be transferred from EUCOM to CENTCOM—and he certainly didn’t make any direct request of the White House.  “I don’t send things to the White House,” he said, except only very rarely when directly requested by the President.
So how did Petraeus’ fairly rudimentary statements get so distorted?  He thinks that “people inferred” things that weren’t there, and “bloggers picked it up and spun it.”  And he called this “unhelpful, frankly.”

- Kitty Harvey

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