Washington, Oct.7 : John McCain, it seems, has another running mate -- General David H. Petraeus, the former commander of American forces in Iraq and now the CENTCOM chief.
Though officially, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is McCain's running mate, but she didn't get a mention once during McCain's first debate with Barack Obama.
He, however, named General Petraeus seven times, and has since been invoking the former Iraq commander in speeches around the country -- in Ohio and Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida, reports the Washington Post.
According to the paper, McCain has even been carrying around a biography of the general and told Palin that Petraeus is "a great American hero." For McCain, Petraeus is the icon of the turnaround in Iraq brought about by the surge of troops that McCain vociferously supported. Petraeus is preparing to take over his biggest assignment yet -- chief of U.S. Central Command, with responsibility for the entire Near East, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Syria and Lebanon.
He will be at the center of the next administration's decisions about how to manage two wars, not to mention the gravest threats of terrorism and nuclear proliferation. Yet Petraeus is being employed by one candidate to prove his worth, and discredit his opponent, in a contest to determine which of them will become the general's next commander in chief.
McCain undoubtedly feels he has a connection to Petraeus. They both pressed for a strategy of sending five additional brigades to Iraq at a time when most of Washington -- and most of the Pentagon -- opposed it.
McCain made a high-profile visit to Baghdad early in the surge to endorse what was then its uncertain results -- and for his trouble was ridiculed for walking through a Baghdad market with overwhelming security backup.
It's true, too, that Obama's relationship with Petraeus is tenuous. At the debate, Obama praised the general, saying he "has done a brilliant job" in Iraq. But during his own visit to Baghdad in July, Obama was candid enough to concede that he and Petraeus did not agree about troop withdrawals.
In fact, if Obama is elected, his management of Petraeus may be the most important early test of his administration. Though progress in Iraq has narrowed their differences, Petraeus and his new deputy in Baghdad, General Ray Odierno, will almost certainly tell the new president that withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq at the rate of a brigade a month next year, as Obama has proposed, would be too risky.
Would Obama listen to the most lauded war general since MacArthur or conspicuously overrule him? Petraeus, a skilled politician in his own way, will certainly seek to avoid confrontation. But if there is to be a consensus, Obama will need to retreat from his campaign rhetoric.
The irony is that McCain pushed for Petraeus's appointment to Central Command in part to constrain the next president.