During Atlanta visit, General Petraeus shows he’s clearly in command

By Maria Saporta

When General David Petraeus came to speak today at the Atlanta Press Club/Commerce Club luncheon, he came with star power.

About a dozen photographers and television stations were on hand to hear his every word on Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan — all among the 20 countries under his purview in the U.S. Central Command.

Petraeus impressed the 600 people attending the lunch at the Intercontinental Hotel in Buckhead with the depth of his knowledge and analysis of one of the most complicated regions of the world.

Instead of a traditional speech, Petraeus chose to have a “conversation,” first by answering a series of questions from retired CNN President Tom Johnson (who was instrumental in getting Petraeus to accept the invitation) and then taking questions from the audience.

One of the more interesting comments was when he was asked about the role of our allies, such as British forces, in the various conflicts.

He quoted Winston Churchill who said: “The only thing worse than allies is having no allies.”

And in his own words, Petraeus said: “Again, the power of many is much better than the power of one.” That’s a lesson the United States learned eight years ago when it was working more on its own, he added.

Although Petraeus didn’t break any big news, he left people with the impression that he’s a solid military leader who is more interested in results than fanfare.

Every time he mentioned President Barack Obama, he did so with reverence — the diligent process the president undertook when deciding how to approach Afghanistan and the “open hand” the president has extended to our enemies, including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“”We are still looking for encouraging signs,” Petraeus said of the “open hand” policy toward Iran. “That’s one way to put it.”

At the end of his talk, Petraeus stopped to meet some of the dignitaries attending the lunch, including Phyllis George, a former broadcaster, a former Miss Texas who was crowned Miss America in 1971.

George is living in Athens as a house guest of Marianne Rogers, who also was at the Petraeus lunch, while she’s developing a television project.

She said the one question she wish she could have asked Petraeus was about whether the United States has enough resources to handle the situation in the Middle East and to respond to natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti. George’s daughter, a television journalist, is on her way to Haiti on assignment.

Another interesting person in the crowd was Bert Lance, a close associate of former President Jimmy Carter who served as the director of the Office of Management and Budget during his administration. Lance later was implicated in some questionable deals with BCCI in the late 1980s.

With Lance, the conversation quickly turned to politics and whether Petraeus might run for president in 2012.

“It’s a little early for that,” Lance said. “That could come later.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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