Putting Petraeus in command in Afghanistan is only the first step. Now, what to do about Ambassador Eikenberry and special envoy Holbrooke? My second big concern is what happens to Iraq now. As readers of this blog know, I am very worried about trends there. If Iraq begins to fall apart, and Petraeus is busy in Kabul, who is going to step on? At the very least, they should consider extending General Odierno's time there.
Today Obama clarified what [the] July 2011 [transition to Afghan soldiers and police taking the lead in securing the country] means somewhat. It means what Gen. Petraeus, his new commander, told the Senate he supports: not a “race for the exits,” but a “conditions-based,” open-ended transition. If that still sounds unclear, it’s because the policy itself is unclear. But by placing Petraeus at the helm, it means that 2012 will probably look more like right now, in terms of troop levels and U.S. troops fighting, than anything Biden prefers. That is, unless Petraeus and Obama come to a consensus that conditions on the ground necessitate more rapid withdrawals. Think of the deadline as getting deliberately blurrier. Tom Ricks called his last book about Petraeus “The Gamble.” It’s sequel time.
The United States has again called upon General David Petraeus during crisis. There have been other times, the most remarkable being in January 2007 when we were on the cusp of losing the war in Iraq. The chances against success were increasingly remote. I was there through the entire surge, and more, and saw the remarkable transformation under command of General Petraeus and due to the incredible efforts of our armed forces and civilian counterparts. No book that I have read, including the one that I wrote, has fully conveyed the magnitude of those days. You simply had to be there.
Here we are again. This time on the cusp of losing the war in Afghanistan. The situation is worse than ever before. Again, the United States has asked General David Petraeus to step into a situation that seems hopeless to many people. It is not hopeless, just extremely bad. All is not lost, just nearly lost. Our people can turn this war around.
I'm not sure how Obama could have handled this any better. He was genuinely graceful about McChrystal and his explanation of why he had to go made perfect sense. He called for unity within his adminstration in pursuing the war and sounded quite stalwart about both the war and about the strategy. More importantly, his choice of Petraeus as a replacement for McChrystal is a brilliant move: He gets a heavy-weight, an unassailable expert in this kind of warfare, and someone who presumably can step in pretty seamlessly.
Liberals were hoping that McChrystal's departure would offer an opportunity for the administration to rethink a strategy which some suspect was adopted largely due to political pressure to continue the mission.They point to the recent difficulties in Marjah as evidence the strategy isn't working to dislodge or weaken the Taliban, and maintain that the structure and corruption of the Afghan government is an intractable problem. At the very least, they would have liked a serious reevaluation of the viability of the current counterinsurgency strategy.The appointment of General Petraeus is likely to squelch any such discussion before it gets started.
In Iraq, Petraeus succeeded in part because he found such a capable and cooperative “wing man” Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Perhaps Eikenberry will work better with Petraeus than he did with McChrystal; certainly Petraues is more diplomatic and better at tending to those kinds of relationships. But I hope that the president would give serious consideration to the other part of Bill Kristol’s suggestion to appoint Ryan Crocker as ambassador in Kabul. And if Crocker wouldn’t do it, because of his health and other reasons, no doubt there is another capable diplomat who could do the job. Whoever the top diplomatic representative is, he needs to cultivate a good relationship with Hamid Karzai something that Eiekenberry has notoriously lacked and that McChrystal, to his credit, did not.