General Petraeus' Disturbing Statement About Hezbollah

First, allow a disclaimer: Along with Gens. James Mattis and Ray Odierno, I consider Gen. David Petraeus to be our finest military leader today -- indeed, amongst the best in American history. His implementation of the surge strategy in Iraq, a counterinsurgency doctrine he literally authored, was one of the greatest military triumphs in U.S. history and constituted one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the history of warfare. That is not an overstatement. After almost four years of a seemingly endless insurgency, Gen. Petraeus saved the war effort in Iraq; needless to say, he has earned his military pension when he retires -- including the gratitude of all Americans and all Iraqis.

Like most Americans, I take what Petraeus says very seriously. Now that he is in charge of CENTCOM, his overall responsibilities include all of the Middle East. At 8:00 a.m., Petraeus might be on the phone with a Saudi prince to talk about back-channel financing of al-Qaeda; at 9:00 a.m., he might be speaking with a Pakistani diplomat to talk about economic development; at 10:00 a.m., he might be on the phone with an Afghan warlord to talk about security; at 11:00 a.m., he might speak with Gen. Odierno or Prime Minister Maliki about Iraq. He is ultimately responsible for the Iraqi and Afghan wars and would be in charge of a hypothetical confrontation with Iran. In essence, Petraeus is the decisive ambassador to the entire region.

Petraeus is a respected man, whose opinions are highly valued and held in high esteem -- which makes his recent comment about the terrorist group Hezbollah all the more surprising. Just prior to the Lebanese elections -- elections that Hezbollah lost, thank goodness -- Gen. Petraeus spoke with the Arabic-language al-Hayat newspaper, published by the Lebanese Daily Star, and blamed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the existence of Hezbollah. "Hezbollah's justifications for existence will become void," Petraeus said, "if the Palestinian cause is resolved."

It is unclear what Petraeus meant by this statement. While he has earned the benefit of the doubt, if Petraeus truly meant what he apparently said, this is a highly discouraging revelation. The idea that the Palestinian "plight" is Hezbollah's casus belli is so far from the truth, and so detached from reality, it is hard to believe Petraeus actually thinks this. Perhaps there was a mistranslation? Perhaps Petraeus was making shrewd statements for domestic Lebanese consumption -- attempting to undermine Hezbollah by painting them as more concerned for Palestinians than the Lebanese people, just ahead of Lebanon's elections? All of this is possible.