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David Petraeus GS ’87 said on campus Saturday that fracking could be a solution to U.S. energy challenges for the next 100 years, according to attendees.

The final speaking event at the University’s weekend conference for graduate alumni was closed to press but held in the University’s largest auditorium and could be attended by any of the 1,000 graduate alumni who registered for the conference. It was one of the few speaking events that Petraeus has participated in since he resigned as CIA director in November following the news that he had an extramarital affair with his biographer.

Petraeus launched into a defense of hydraulic fracturing, a controversial technology more commonly known as "fracking" that can be used to extract natural gas from shale rock, at the beginning of the event. Attendees said Petraeus described natural gas as a tremendous opportunity for the United States, which the country has in abundant reserves. Detractors of fracking cite its environmental impact.

Petraeus also said he supported improvements to American pipeline infrastructureso that crude oil and other forms of energy can be transported more easily, attendees said. Petraeus is teaching a seminar at the City University of New York this semester that focuses partly on fracking and the potential pipeline.

Petraeus departed from his expertise in military policy in an answer given to Michael O’Hanlon GS ’91, a fellow at the Brookings Institute and a lecturer in the Wilson School, who interviewed Petraeus at the event in Richardson Auditorium. O’Hanlon was one of several individuals close to Petraeus who confirmed last year that the former commander of the U.S. Central Command had expressed interest in serving as University president. His potential interest in leading the school did not emerge in the hour-long conversation, attendees said.

Saturday was the first time Petraeus had returned to the campus where he earned his Ph.D. from the Wilson School 25 years ago since his highly publicized scandal. Friends of the former CIA director have said Petraeus loves the school. Even as he moved up the ranks of the United States military, Petraeus remained an active alumnus, speaking at Baccalaureate in 2009 andAlumni Day in 2010 and frequently mentoring University graduates interested in the Armed Forces.

One of those graduate alumni, a National Guardsman being deployed to Afghanistan in the spring in a small group of forces from across the globe, asked Petraeus on Saturday how to work in a diverse unit. The four-star general offered the man tactical advice about how to fight in unfamiliar terrain but also cultural advice about how to understand the sensitivities of his unit and the Afghan forces he'll train.

“Watch 'The Sopranos,' ” Petraeus said, drawing laughter, according to attendees.

Petraeus told the man, who addressed him as “Sir,” that his deployment “sounds like Princeton in the Nation’s Service,” according to an attendee.

A handful of the 10 questions from the audience posed to Petraeus were asked by individuals with military ties. One Vietnam War veteran asked if members of the military were still considered heroes. Petraeus said they were.

Few of the questions broached controversial subjects, attendees said. No one asked about Petraeus’ affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell, and some attendees described his answers to questions as expected.

“It was the opposite of confrontational,” one graduate alumnus said. “He was tossed softballs.”

Petraeus offered his views on Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and the broader geopolitical future of the region. Calling himself “realistic,” but on the whole displaying optimism, according to attendees, Petraeus acknowledged potential conflicts for American interests in the Middle East.

On Iran — which has recently elected a new president believed to be more open to Western engagement — Petraeus said the U.S. should interact with the nation, but with caution. He also said American foreign policy must understand the position that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in and that the White House cannot try to craft Iranian policy unilaterally, attendees said.

Petraeus was appointed a non-resident senior fellow at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard announced Friday. He will co-lead a project on “The Coming North America Decades,” which will examine the economic, technological and scientific factors prompting a surge in U.S. and North American competitiveness.

Following the discussion, Petraeus attended the dinner reception on the green outside Alexander Hall.

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