A General Love Affair

Recently on Fox News Sunday Army Gen. David (King David) Petraeus demurred when asked if politics lay in his future, recalling the words of Civil War icon (Union, anyway) Gen. William T. Sherman, who said in 1884, “If drafted I will not run; if nominated I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve.”

Guess Sherman wasn’t interested in the presidency and was likely reacting to the woes that had befallen another Civil War hero (again, Union) retired general and then-President Ulysses. S. Grant. While Grant is in the minority of how badly a military leader’s political career can turn out, his example is certainly sobering.

Ah, but we digress.

America’s love-affair tradition with its hot general du jour is alive and well. Petraeus smartly was not as emphatic as Sherman.

Americans have long looked to their successful military commanders for leadership off the battlefield and often in the White House. These include: George Washington (OK, pre-White House), Andrew Jackson (questionable actions as a military leader but a success nonetheless), Grant (one of our most tragic figures), Teddy Roosevelt (our personal favorite), and Dwight Eisenhower. Though a large number of U.S. presidents have had military experience, it has not defined them with the American people as it has with this group. These men arguably were gifted, and stories of their service grew into legend, not unlike the “King David” moniker — a title bestowed upon Petraeus by admirers.

Some runs for office by military leaders have been disastrous, and unfortunately, men of great honor and talent wind up looking pathetic in the political arena. This is something no one, including Petraeus, wants. The untidiness of it all might keep those who ooze talent from running for office — a loss on many levels.

The not-so-successful military leaders, well, they seem to follow a different path. Ah, fodder for another day.

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