June 24th, 2010
01:04 PM ET

Moving on: Media focuses on Petraeus, Afghan war

Gen. Petraeus will take command over the mission in Afghanistan.

Within hours of President Obama’s announcement that he had accepted Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s resignation, the general who was hand-picked by the president to head the Afghan war became “an afterthought,” as TIME magazine’s Joe Klein points out. 

The media quickly switched its attention to McChrystal’s replacement, Gen. David Petraeus, and the war against terror. Last week Petraeus, while battling exhaustion, fainted during testimony before Congress.

In a blog entry posted shortly after McChrystal’s resignation, The Washington Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran leads with how the change in command will create complications in the U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan. McChrystal forged the closest relationship with Afghan President Hamid Karzai of any senior American official, Chandrasekaran writes.

He thinks Petraeus will have challenges to overcome, but doesn't discount the fact that Petraeus has a head start. 

He has been a regular visitor to Kabul and knows not just Karzai but many other senior Afghan government officials. He also has worked closely with top U.S. civilian officials responsible for Afghanistan, including special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke. 

In a New York Times blog, Andrew Exum, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan writes that the problems McChrystal faced won’t elude Petraeus. 

Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s comments to Rolling Stone magazine were inexcusable, but the frustration he voiced with Ambassador Eikenberry for sending cables to Washington questioning the strategy without first sharing his reservations with General McChrystal was understandable. It is clear that there is little agreement between the U.S. embassy in Kabul and the NATO command on the way forward in Afghanistan. 

However, Foreign policy magazine’s Tom Rick wonders if Petraeus now has too many balls to juggle. 

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. 

I thought Obama's talk was rhetorically perfect, hitting all the right notes in explaining why McChrystal had to go, while paying tribute to McChrystal's service. The only big question he left hanging in just what happens to Central Command. Will Petraeus try to have both commands? Will someone else take over? With Pakistan, Iran and other Middle Eastern issues bubbling out there, this is a question that needs to be addressed ASAP. 

A Christian Science Monitor writers points out that while McChrystal and Petraeus are two highly contrasting personalities – one’s “brash,” the other has “a deft political touch” – they have common ground on one crucial issue: 

The belief that the current surge of troops to Afghanistan, and a focus on building better government across Afghanistan with a blend of soldiers and civilian aid workers, is the best way forward. Petraeus oversaw the writing of a 2006 U.S. counterinsurgency manual that provided a blueprint for McChrystal's strategy in Afghanistan. 

Both generals fret that President Barack Obama’s plan to start bringing combat troops home next July may not give enough time to a strategy that in many ways has only just begun. 

TIME’s Klein points out that while there were clearly tensions between Obama and McChrystal, the president and Petraeus aren’t exactly the best of buddies either. 

Barack Obama's problems with Petraeus began in their very first meeting, in Baghdad during the 2008 presidential campaign. … The meeting dissolved into a heated exchange between Obama and Petraeus over Obama's stated intention to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by 2010. Ultimately, Obama's general view on the withdrawal prevailed; even Petraeus eventually came to believe Obama's policy was right, although he also believed it wouldn't have been possible without his 2007 surge in Iraq, which Obama opposed. 

Across the Atlantic, Colonel Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and the author of Attack State Red, writes on a Channel 4 blog

A setback but not a crisis. The choice of General Petraeus to replace McChrystal was inspired. Until yesterday Petraeus was his boss and had significant involvement in the development of the strategy. Widely respected in political and military circles, he will immediately gain the confidence of NATO allies and the Afghans. 

Calling McChrystal’s departure an “orchestrated drama of the firing,” UK’s Daily Telegraph suggested there's more to the choice of Petraeus than meets the eye. 

The choice of Gen David Petraeus, the military architect of a victory in Iraq seized from the jaws of defeat, buys Mr. Obama some political space. Gen Petraeus is as close to an untouchable figure as there is in Washington. 

A cynic might charge that Mr Obama has neutralised a possible political rival because Gen. Petraeus has been mooted as a Republican presidential candidate in 2012. 

In truth, however, this was always an unlikely course for Gen. Petraeus, who was a mentor of Gen. McChrystal and the intellectual father of the American counter-insurgency doctrine. 

Perhaps the ultimate irony of the day was that Mr. Obama has now entrusted the Afghanistan conflict to a man whose surge in Iraq he opposed as he secured the Democratic nomination for the White House on the back of his anti-war credentials. 

McChrystal will be missed though, the BBC’s world affairs editor John Simpson notes: 

His allies, particularly the British, will miss him too. Gen. McChrystal is an anglophile with a Special Forces background. That tends to bring with it a closeness with and respect for the British special forces. He was a particular favourite with the SAS, and not long ago was the guest of honour at a big dinner at their headquarters in Hereford. 

Back in at home, no one, really, is mourning the loss of McChrystal. TIME magazine’s Mark Thompson writes: 

While there was disappointment in some military circles over the outcome, there was little outrage. McChrystal had crossed a line, the consensus seemed to be, and the Commander-in-Chief was justified in deeming it a firing offense. 

Perhaps an analyst quoted in military newspaper Stars and Stripes sums it up best: 

“They picked the best, the top turnaround specialist in the military,” said Max Boot, Council on Foreign Relations fellow for national security studies. “If there’s one guy you can trust to get the job done, it's Petraeus.” 

soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. damiao


    June 24, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. AllenS

    It's official...Politicians are running the war. Sorry General McChrystal embarrassed those on high. An ill-conceived reaction to a dust up.

    June 24, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Smith in Oregon

    The Hidden Agenda is the one to look for in this unfolding episode, namely a push by The Pentagon, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Joe Lieberman to pull a double down Bush-Cheney double surge in Afghanistan with another 30,000 troops instead of pulling out the previous surge and many other troops from Afghanistan on July 2011.

    Al Qaeda left Afghanistan years ago and those still living are housed in Pakistani ISI-CIA safe-houses in Pakistan.

    If the goal was to defeat Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, mission successful, mission accomplished.

    If the new goal is to defeat and remove the Taliban from Afghanistan, that isn't going to occur, residents in Afghanistan are the Taliban. There is no totally removing the Taliban from Afghanistan.

    American troops are not going to become in mass, Afghanistan citizens and thus replacing the Taliban citizens.

    Afghanistan is not going to become America's 53th. State.

    The moment America pulls out of Afghanistan, the Taliban will return and be once again welcomed back in the 37 provinces across Afghanistan by the Afghanistan residents.

    The biggest mistake in the McChrystal fiasco was for President Obama to let the Pentagon pull a man from directing extremely black Op's in a dark cubicle in the Pentagon for the past FIVE years and push him onto President Obama as their best man with a 'winning' strategy in the Afghanistan War to become the Afghanistan field commander.

    The Pentagon set-up President Obama to fail. From day one, the UK and fellow NATO commanders stated McChrystal's 'shake and bake' strategy would FAIL. And in the only test of McChrystal's strategy which was in Marjah, after temporary removal of the Taliban, the strategy appears to have failed and the Taliban are returning.

    The residents in Marjah largely reject the shake and bake Afghanistan police and regional governors forced on them as utterly corrupt and by and large trust and support the Taliban whom they see as the lesser evil of the two choices!

    June 24, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |