Last March General David Petraeus, then head of Central Command, sought to undercut his own testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee that was critical of Israel by intriguing with a rightwing writer to put out a different story, in emails obtained by Mondoweiss.
The emails show Petraeus encouraging Max Boot of Commentary to write a story– and offering the neoconservative writer choice details about his views on the Holocaust:
Does it help if folks know that I hosted Elie Wiesel and his wife at our quarters last Sun night?! And that I will be the speaker at the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps in mid-Apr at the Capitol Dome…
Petraeus passed the emails along himself through carelessness last March. He pasted a Boot column from Commentary’s blog into in an "FYI" email he sent to an activist who is highly critical of the U.S.’s special relationship with Israel. Some of the general’s emails to Boot were attached to the bottom of the story. The activist, James Morris, shared the emails with me.
Back on March 13, Mark Perry broke the explosive story that Gen. David Petraeus was echoing Joe Biden’s view that the special relationship with Israel is endangering Americans. Perry said that Petraeus had sent aides to the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the White House to tell him that the U.S.’s inability to stand up to Israel was hurting Americans across the Middle East. Perry reported that Petraeus was asking that Israel and Palestine be included under his Central Command (rather than under Europe, as they are now).
On March 16, neocon Max Boot, who is on the Council of Foreign Relations and holds militarist pro-Israel views (he’s an American Jew born in Russia), sought to refute Perry’s post at the Commentary blog:
"I asked a military officer who is familiar with the briefing in question and with Petraeus’s thinking on the issue to clarify matters. He told me that Perry’s item was ‘incorrect.’"
Boot quoted the unnamed officer at some length apologizing for Israel:
he did not suggest that Petraeus was mainly blaming Israel and its settlements for the lack of progress. They are, he said, “one of many issues, among which also is the unwillingness to recognize Israel and the unwillingness to confront the extremists who threaten Israelis.” That’s about what I expected: Petraeus holds a much more realistic and nuanced view than the one attributed to him by terrorist groupie Mark Perry.
I suspect this unnamed officer was Petraeus himself– based on the emails. But we’ll get to them in a minute.
That same day, Tuesday, March 16, Petraeus testified before Congress, and on Thursday the 18th, MJ Rosenberg at Media Matters wrote a piece celebrating Petraeus’s realist views on Israel/Palestine. He noted that Petraeus is spoken of as a Republican candidate for President and contrasted Petraeus’s views to Sarah Palin’s .
Speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian issue before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Petraeus said:
"The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests… Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the [region] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas…."
So Petraeus is telling us that American interests — and Americans in uniform — are threatened by the Israeli-Palestinian status quo and that Iran, Hizballah, and Hamas benefit from it.
That’s pretty straightforward.
Now we get to the emails. At 2:18 p.m. the day Rosenberg’s story ran, Michael Gfoeller, a State Department Policy Advisor who serves the Central Command, forwarded the story to David Petraeus, "Subject: FW: On the Middle East: It’s Palin vs Petraeus."
Gfoeller’s message was short: "Sir: FYI. Mike."
Nineteen minutes later, at 2:37, Petraeus sent the story along to Max Boot (I’ve eliminated addresses):
From: Petraeus, David H GEN MIL USA USCENTCOM CCCC/CCCC
To: Max Boot
Subject: FW: On the Middle East: It’s Palin vs Petraeus
As you know, I didn’t say that. It’s in a written submission for the
Petraeus meant that the comments weren’t in his testimony. But they were in a 56-page document, titled "Statement of General David H. Petraeus, U.S. Army Commander, US Central Command before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the posture of US Central Command, 16 Mar 2010."
Four minutes later, at 2:31, Boot responded to Petraeus. No need to say Sir:
Oh brother. Luckily it’s only media matters which has no credibility but
think I will do another short item pointing people to what you actually
said as opposed to what’s in the posture statement.
Six minutes pass.
From: Petraeus, David H GEN MIL USA USCENTCOM CCCC/CCCC
Thx, Max. (Does it help if folks know that I hosted Elie Wiesel and his
wife at our quarters last Sun night?! And that I will be the speaker at
the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps in
mid-Apr at the Capitol Dome…)
No don’t think that’s relevant because you’re not being accused of being
That’s military talk. The emoticon means, I’m running for President.
Max Boot is as quick as a duck on a junebug. By 3:11 he had filed a story on the Commentary blog, titled, "A Lie: David Petraeus, Anti-Israel." It attacked "misleading commentary that continues to emerge, attributing anti-Israeli sentiment to Gen. David Petraeus." It dismissed the "posture statement" as a filing from "Petraeus’s staff," even though, as M.J. Rosenberg emphasized to me, "That is his official statement, to be attributed to the record, and it was cleared."
Instead, Boot offered Petraeus’s (mealymouthed) oral testimony at the hearing to a John McCain question, in which he said the transfer of Israel and Palestine to Central Command was just something staffers had discussed, he downplayed Israel/Palestine as a source of tension, though he allowed that he was encouraging the peace process because of the "effect that it has on particularly what I think you would term the moderate governments in our area."
Boot, who seems to want Israel to hold the occupied territories forever, concluded,
"General Petraeus obviously doesn’t see the Israeli-Arab ‘peace process’ as a top issue for his command, because he didn’t even raise it in his opening statement. When he was pressed on it, he made a fairly anodyne statement about the need to encourage negotiations to help moderate Arab regimes. That’s it. He didn’t say that all settlements had to be stopped or that Israel is to blame for the lack of progress in negotiations. And he definitely didn’t say that the administration should engineer a crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations in order to end the construction of new housing for Jews in East Jerusalem."
Enter activist James Morris.
Morris has long been a tiger on the question of whether Israel’s security motivated the disastrous decision to invade Iraq. I met him in 2005 or so when he left an American Enterprise Institute function after asking Richard Perle about the "Clean Break" paper he wrote for Netanyahu and his own Israel agenda in the U.S. government. Morris runs the website "Neocon Zionist Threat to America" and is a regular call-in questioner on CSPAN and at public events. He sends emails all the time to people in authority– network correspondents and policymakers. He is always polite, but his emails are long and filled with links. Sometimes people respond to him.
On March 19, Morris sent Petraeus an email congratulating him on his views on Israel/Palestine. And the same day, Petraeus responded to Morris with one word, "FYI", and the Commentary piece by Boot.
The commanding general obviously didn’t realize it, but his copy of the Commentary piece was pasted in above his email correspondence with the author, Max Boot, and Gfoeller.
On March 20, James Morris wrote back to Petraeus to try and engage some more. This time Petraeus sent him this note:
"Thanks, James. Frankly, I’d like to let all this die down at this point, if that’s possible! All best -"
Morris wrote back, "I understand, but please keep in mind (which I am sure you do anyway) the consequences if the Israel lobby is successful in getting US into another war for Israel with Iran. Also please keep in mind that your staff was spot on with what was conveyed in that posture report…."
James Morris first shared the exchange with me in May. My bad; I didn’t read it. Then after the McChrystal blow-up last week, he bugged me in his subject line, Did you read my exchange with Petraeus, and this time I had a look.