In this period of American military dominance, generals and admirals have acquired influence well beyond the battlefield. Four-Star General David Petraeus, chief of the US Central Command, oversees US military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the rest of the greater Middle East. He is the likely choice to become the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he will again be in the public spotlight. His recent lower profile was suggested by the Obama White House.
His extensive wartime experience and proven ability to negotiate on Capitol Hill have made General Petraeus a formidable political personality should he choose that venue after retirement. He regularly denies interest in becoming president of the United States, sometimes without being asked. He invokes the famous remark of William Tecumseh Sherman, the Civil War general who made the stunningly clear response to presidential ambition: “If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve.” Other notable generals found the call irresistible: George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight David Eisenhower, so far.
However, that is not the end of the matter. The ascendancy of Petraeus has come during a period in American history in which military leaders have acquired influence well beyond the battlefield. Petraeus and his counterpart commanders in the Pacific, in Europe and in Latin America meet regularly with the politically powerful in foreign capitals, as well as in Washington, DC. Some observers point to their clout as evidence that US foreign policy has become militarized under both Democratic and Republican administrations. It is difficult to deflect this argument when the US is engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is intervening in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, is authorized to chase Al Qaeda militarily into any or all of the 192 countries on earth, and operates 761 military bases in 147 countries.