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Gen. Petraeus across the nation: Many challenges still ahead in Middle East

General David H. Petraeus speaks during an interview at BYU Thursday, March 25.
General David H. Petraeus speaks during an interview at BYU Thursday, March 25.
Jason Olson, Deseret News

PROVO — It's not a victory speech, but Gen. David Petraeus' message of progress continues to echo across the U.S. as he tours colleges campuses to update students, professors and community members about the challenges and opportunities in the Middle East.

The head of U.S. Central Command recently completed a four-state, four-college tour, starting in New Hampshire, before hitting Yale and BYU and ending at the University of South Florida.

St. Anselm College

While speaking with reporters before a question and answer session at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Petraeus again reiterated that he is not interested in politics or being the president.

"I thought I've said 'no' as many ways as I could," he said, according to the Associated Press. "I will not ever run for political office, I can assure you of that."

During the moderated discussion, Petraeus said collaboration and information sharing between U.S. agencies and allied countries has improved in the fight against the al-Qaida network.

"You cannot get into a whack-a-mole game," he said, as reported by the Nashua Telegraph. "It is a network, and it takes a network to deal with it. There's no question but that al-Qaida retains capability, and it's a learning organization."

Yale

Petraeus visited with students and faculty of the Studies in Grand Strategies seminar at the Greenberg Conference Center in New Haven, Conn., but the meeting was not open to the press.

BYU

Petraeus emphasized the many challenges of the CENTCOM area of responsibility — an area with abundant natural energy resources but a dearth of fresh water and some of richest and poorest people in the world.

"It's an area with enormous blessing, but enormous challenges," he told a packed auditorium and several hundreds more in overflow rooms watching on TV.

Petraeus said the military faced the challenges in Iraq by securing the population, promoting reconciliation and being first with the truth.

"The core counterinsurgency guidance for Iraq has applicability (in Afghanistan)," he said, "but only if it's applied with a great care to understanding the circumstances."

Petraeus closed his BYU presentation, as he often does, by showing a picture of 1,215 soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines re-enlisting in Iraq on July 4, 2008.

As the recruiting officer, he said he asked himself why these men and women were choosing a path that would most likely put them in the combat zone again.

"My conclusion is that they were raising their right hand and re-enlisting because of a sense of purpose, a sense that they are (part of) a mission that is larger than themselves," he said. "There is no greater privilege than being able to serve with them in such endeavors. I am here today as their representative taking great pride in explaining what they have accomplished."

University of South Florida

Petraeus told the audience in Tampa, Fla., that he's a realist, not an optimist or pessimist, and despite great strides in Afghanistan, true success in both Afghanistan and Iran will come when they can stand on their own without U.S. military assistance.

"The key is Afghan governance — governance that can achieve legitimacy in the eyes of the people," he said, as reported by the St. Petersburg Times.

e-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com