General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, took the stage where presidential candidates have debated but said his visit had nothing to do with politics or New Hampshire, home to the first presidential primaries.
Gen. Petraeus has been talked about as a potential 2012 candidate but insists he has no interest in running.
Before making a speech at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, he said he was unaware that the college had been the site of presidential debates.
“I thought I’ve said ’no’ as many ways as I could,” he said. “I will not ever run for political office, I can assure you of that.”
The chief of US Central Command has been speaking at college campuses around the country to answer the public’s questions about US military operations in the region he overseas: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and a wide swath of the Middle East.
“I just signed up for a college in New Hampshire,” he said.
Gen. Petraeus later spoke to about 550 Saint Anselm student, faculty and area residents.
Though the event was billed as a Conversation With General Petraeus, questions had to be submitted in advance and were asked by a moderator.
The setup more accurately resembled a conversation between the general and the moderator, a local television reporter who paraphrased the submitted questions and frequently added his own.
Gen. Petraeus used a slideshow presentation to highlight how the number of attacks or attempted attacks on US forces in Iraq has dropped from 220 a day to fewer than 20 a day since the US troop surge he commanded.
“Progress in Iraq is fragile and reversible, but less so than it was,” he said.
In Afghanistan, he said the last year spent putting together the “inputs” - the right structures, leaders, ideas and resources – has started to pay off. But he said the biggest obstacle remains the local governance.
“Getting that local governance piece so the government is serving the people and is not preying on them or corrupting them is the long pole in that tent,” he said.
Though he doesn’t plan to hit the New Hampshire campaign trail, Gen. Petraeus is familiar with the state.
He owns property in Springfield and is registered to vote there, though he hasn’t voted since 2002.
He explained that his wife’s family, also a military family, made it their official residence because they spent summers there, and he did the same when he married just out of West Point.