Analysts in DC surmise that Petraeus has two goals: to convince the American people that the current Afghanistan strategy is working, and to soften expectations that the July, 2011 transition point will mark the month that significant numbers of troops return home.
But Petraeus is aware that his words cannot make up for the conditions of the battlefield itself and does not believe that Americans will be lulled into a false sense of security simply because they admire the new man in charge.
The two-pronged strategy, a sustainable troop commitment mixed with urgency, remains operative. President Obama has emphasized that the date means something, but has publicly suggested that he understands the slope of formal transition will be slow -- perhaps slower than he expected when he announced the date. The Pentagon's policy chief, Michelle Flournoy, and the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, seem to go out of their way to avoid attaching much significance to that date. Vice President Biden, by contrast, continues to see it as a starting point for a real drawdown, with actual meaning attached to "starting" and "drawdown." Many congressional leaders agree.
I cannot get a fix as to whether the National Security Council knows what Petraeus will want to do next July. Some White House officials fear that Petraeus plans to ask the President for even more troops, something that the few skeptics in the president's war cabinet could have sworn they would hear from the military at some point.
But Petraeus makes the argument that the strategy is working, and the principal goal of dismantling Al Qaeda is winnable -- winnable so long as Afghans perceive that once the U.S. leaves, the Taliban won't quickly overthrow the Karzai government and return to power.
But time takes troops. And no one has more leverage with the President than Petraeus.
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