Wednesday, April 27, 2011


Anyone remember this?

In late 2008, shortly after he had helped pull Iraq back from the brink of catastrophe, Gen. David H. Petraeus prepared to turn to that other American war.

“I’ve always said that Afghanistan would be the tougher fight,” General Petraeus said at the time.

Apparently, General Petraeus was right. Although- or perhaps because- the news from Afghanistan has been troubling, we read today

CIA director Leon Panetta will become U.S. defense secretary and be replaced at the spy agency's helm by U.S. Army General David Petraeus, current head of military operations in Afghanistan, ABC News reported on Wednesday.

President Barack Obama will also nominate veteran diplomat Ryan Crocker as the next U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, according to an NBC News report.

When The New York Times on June 23 published its report under the heading "Petraeus Is Now Taking Control of a ‘Tougher Fight,’" Alissa Rubin and Dexter Filins maintained

In Iraq, General Petraeus helped turn the tide not just by sending 30,000 more American troops into Baghdad, but also by fostering deals with insurgent leaders who had spent the previous four years killing Americans. As much as the surge, the movement in Iraq known as the Sunni Awakening helped set in motion the remarkable decline in violence there that has largely held to this day.

Rubin and Filkins noted the arduous task of turning around the American war effort in Afghanistan, and added

To turn the tide, General Petraeus will almost certainly continue the counterinsurgency strategy he devised with General McChrystal: protecting Afghan civilians, separating them from insurgents and winning public support. But he will also have to convince his own troops, who are increasingly angry about the restrictions on using firepower imposed to protect civilians.

And General Petraeus will probably also try to employ some of the same novel tactics that worked so well in Iraq. Most notably, he will continue to coax Taliban fighters away from the insurgency with promises of jobs and security. And he may even try to strike deals with senior leaders of the Taliban as well as with the military and intelligence services in Pakistan.

A former aide to General Petraeus in Iraq who is now in Afghanistan put it this way: “The policy is to make everyone feel safer, reconcile with those who are willing and kill the people you need to.”

As a candidate, Barack Obama emphasized that the U.S. national interests were far more at stake in Afghanistan than in Iraq. As President, Barack Obama asserted thirteen months ago in Kabul

We can’t forget why we’re here. We did not choose this war. This was not an act of America wanting to expand its influence; of us wanting to meddle in somebody else’s business. We were attacked viciously on 9/11. Thousands of our fellow countrymen and women were killed. And this is the region where the perpetrators of that crime, al Qaeda, still base their leadership. Plots against our homeland, plots against our allies, plots against the Afghan and Pakistani people are taking place as we speak right here. And if this region slides backwards, if the Taliban retakes this country and al Qaeda can operate with impunity, then more American lives will be at stake. The Afghan people will lose their chance at progress and prosperity. And the world will be significantly less secure.

Our broad mission is clear: We are going to disrupt and dismantle, defeat and destroy al Qaeda and its extremist allies. That is our mission. And to accomplish that goal, our objectives here in Afghanistan are also clear: We’re going to deny al Qaeda safe haven. We’re going to reverse the Taliban’s momentum. We’re going to strengthen the capacity of Afghan security forces and the Afghan government so that they can begin taking responsibility and gain confidence of the Afghan people.

When the President assigned Petraeus the position of Commander, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A), it was widely hailed as a brilliant political move, virtually eliminating the popular general as a potential 2012 GOP presidential nominee. But assignment to the C.I.A. is not politically imperative.

Perhaps President Obama has given up on the war in Afghanistan. Or, less likely, he has given up on David Petraeus, arguably the most respected American general since Dwight Eisenhower, as a commanding general in the region from which terrorists intent on the destruction of this nation operate. Someone needs to ask the President (and Petraeus during his confirmation hearing) why he has decided to make this move- though it has been rumored for months- while we continue in combat with victory obviously not within our grasp. If the answers are unsatisfying, worth consideration is David Dayen's theory:

Panetta was Chief of Staff under Bill Clinton and before that a US Representative from the Central Coast of California. He’s been CIA Director in the Obama Administration, which as I understand it now is basically the Secretary of Defense job, given all the covert operations. And then you have a military commander moving to the CIA. So the merging of the military and the intelligence community is complete. Within a few years it’ll just be one big black op. The good news is they can cut the military budget then, and put everything into the secret, off-the-books intelligence budget so as not to raise suspicion.

The Senate Intelligence Committee (and the full Senate, which would confirm Petraeus for anything he's nominated to) and the media cannot have it both ways: either General Petraeus has been vastly overrated or something else is going on here. In this democratic republic, the 800 pound elephant must not be ignored.

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