Retired four-star Gen. David Petraeus capped a day-long conference dedicated to growing business between the United States and the Middle East by focusing on the quest for political stability in the region. Brought to Pittsburgh by the American Middle East Institute, the former CIA director spoke last week on the unrest in Iraq, the civil war in Syria, the threat posed by the so-called Islamic State and America’s limited foreign policy options.
Following the address, Grove City College president Paul McNulty engaged Petraeus in a public conversation.
Petraeus’ expertise stems from his 38 years of decorated military service. His acumen and strategic prowess were relied upon by both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who tapped the New York native for military leadership in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., once said that the general would “stand in the ranks of America’s greatest military heroes,” but an extramarital affair brought Petraeus’ career to a grinding halt after revelations in the news media led to his 2012 resignation as CIA director.
Petraeus imparted his knowledge to the Pittsburgh audience through anecdotes and observations. He spoke of leading more than 100,000 troops and effusively commended enlistees who daily sacrifice life and limb for the United States. In terms of current conflicts, Petraeus sharply noted, “We will have to do a bit of experimenting in Iraq and Syria to see what works.” Beginning with the former, he described “enormous challenges” in Iraq, yet claimed that despite the Islamic State’s gains, “we should be careful not to overestimate [its] capabilities in Iraq.” Petraeus suggested that the “biggest challenges may emerge after [the Islamic State] has been cleared,” specifically “getting sectarian militias on board may be difficult.”
When discussing Syria, Petraeus said that the “way forward will not be swift nor without reverses” and maintained that “Syria will be more complex than Iraq.”
Petraeus closed his prepared remarks with a nod toward economics and offered his vision for America’s future. “The U.S. is better positioned than any other country for the next 20 to 30 years and maybe longer,” he said, adding that “the U.S. is blessed to have two democratic stable neighbors blessed with 20 years of free trade.” He noted that the “American energy revolution has transformed global markets” and “America is on the threshold of extraordinary opportunities.”
Petraeus’ address was attended by a delegation from Iran and Mohammed Al Rumhy, Oman’s minister of oil and gas.
Calling Petraeus’ remarks “a practical and sophisticated outline for a stronger, deeper relationship with friends in the Middle East,” Simin Yazdgerdi Curtis, president and CEO of the American Middle East Institute, said that the vision offered by the general went hand-in-hand with her organization’s mission.
“Come rain, hail or fire,” she said, “business marches on in the Middle East and the United States.”
Sally Levin, who was in the audience, said she was “impressed” by Petraeus’ talk. Others similarly cited the general’s erudition, but some noted a curious omission from his address, which was titled “The Way Forward: Hope and Opportunity in the Middle East.” Dr. Terry Brown pointed out that Petraeus “didn’t mention Israel once.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.