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We-Trade-US a General (Good Pun, Huh?)

June 23, 2010
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Well, I’m no Miss Cleo — McChrystal did get fired and the President is staying with the strategy in Afghanistan.  Sort of.  David Petraeus will be demoted from CENTCOM commander in order to lead the offensive, certainly a wise move from the President if he really is committed to victory in Afghanistan (whatever that means — presumably it’s the same as what we accomplished in Iraq).  Petraeus has done this before, he’s definitely not the PR disaster that McChrystal turned out to, and, perhaps most importantly, the public trusts him (or at least most of it does — I haven’t seen any resurgent Betray-Us jokes yet).  As far as strategy goes, though, it’s pretty unclear just exactly what this means.  Ackerman:

Today Obama clarified what July 2011 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.

It’s possible that the President has painted himself into a corner here.  After all, I don’t anybody believes Petraeus is a miracle-worker or anything — the war has not been going well lately, and if things continue to go in the wrong direction, the President may have passed on one of his only outs.  That said, if Petraeus really is as great as some people think he is, then a looming question becomes: what happens to Iraq?  As Tom Ricks notes, things ain’t exactly Neverland there either, and if things start to come apart, what proven leadership does the U.S. to step up and deal with it?  It remains to be seen what’s going to be done about Holbrooke, Eikenberry, and CENTCOM command, but if the President wanted a good way to start a smooth transition, it’s tough to see what he could have done better.

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