Had the president chosen some one else, a cry would have risen up from the demos: why not Petraeus? In an age when generals are seldom heroes, David Petraeus was a true hero. Not because he catered to the press or to Congress or, for that matter, to the military intellectuals. But because he did his duty almost in silence, and in silence during a time when the opinion industries viewed their prey’s value as measured by the noise they make.
Of course, Petraeus could have rebuffed Obama and, as Tunku Varadarajan has just pointed out, nursed ambitions for the presidency—maybe his ambitions, maybe the ambitions of others for him. Given the events of today, 2012 will not be a political calendar year for the general.
Ordinarily, Petraeus would take his orders from the president. The orders of the day, however, and the orders of the year have been so muddled by the strategic carnival amidst which General McChrystal labored it is safe to assume that everybody involved has agreed, maybe only inferentially, that this war will be a war Petraeus wants to fight. (See Max Boot’s informative reports below on the strategic carnival to which I referred.)
It is Obama who is caught in the trap of Petraeus’ designation. I very much doubt that the general will be fighting a soft war, by which I mean a state of belligerency in which the Taliban can lay claim to having won. That is, Petraeus will not do combat to have a war end like the Gaza war ended.
So will the president quietly consent to wage a war to win it?
P.S.: Eliot A Cohen, an old friend and colleague, published a piece in this morning's WSJ arguing that the administration made three colossal mistakes in Afghanistan. I'm not enough of an insider—I'm not at all an insider—to judge the first two. But the third is one I have been mentioning almost every time I write about Afghanistan. It is that the president has been fighting, in his own head, at least, a war that may not be worth fighting.
McChrystal Out, Petraeus In
Posted by Max Boot on June 23, 2010 @ 2:42 PM
Bill Kristol called it. General Petraeus is heading out to rescue yet another counterinsurgency effort in trouble. Give credit to President Obama for acting decisively by relieving General McChrystal and immediately picking the best possible replacement, not letting a dangerous vacuum develop.
If there is one general who can step quickly into the top job in Afghanistan, it is Petraeus, who has been closely involved in formulating the campaign plan along with McChrystal. And if there is one general who knows how to handle the media and the political process (skills that McChrystal obviously lacked), it is Petraeus. That doesn’t mean that he is a “political general” that dreaded epithet applied by combat soldiers to those who get ahead by playing office politics rather than by proving their worth on the battlefield. Petraeus has proven himself at every level of command, on the battlefield and off. His courage cannot be doubted. Neither can his skill. Already in Iraq, he has pulled off the greatest turnaround in American military history since Matthew Ridgway took over the 8th Army in 1950 during the dark days of the Korean War. Now he has to do it again in Afghanistan. Don’t bet against him.
Article continues on Commentary Magazine’s site
Who Is to Replace Petraeus?
Posted by Max Boot on June 23, 2010 @ 3:12 PM
The brilliant and unorthodox decision to appoint General Petraeus to direct operations in Afghanistan leaves a hole at the top of Central Command. There are two obvious choices: Ray Odierno or Jim Mattis. Either one would be superb. Odierno is better known for his role in Iraq, where he was co-architect with Petraeus of the “surge.” More recently, he has been the top man in Iraq overseeing the perilous draw down of American forces. He is scheduled to leave Iraq at the end of the summer and take over Joint Forces Command. In that capacity he would succeed Mattis, a combat Marine who has led troops successfully in both Afghanistan and Iraq and who has later co-written the Army-Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual with Petraeus. Mattis, like Odierno, knows counterinsurgency and knows the Middle East and he will be headed for retirement to an apple orchard in Walla Walla, Washington, unless he gets another military job. Filling Petraeus’s boots at Centcom is a tall order, but either Mattis or Odierno would be a great bet for the job.
Please check out this article on Commentary Magazine’s site
RE: A Good Move. Now…
Posted by Max Boot on June 23, 2010 @ 3:09 PM
Jennifer, while agreeing with much of what you have to say about the McChrystal-Petraeus transition, I have to disagree with your reader who says, “Generals should only talk to their troops.” Perhaps that was once true; it is certainly no longer true. A general who neglects his public-outreach function is guilty of dereliction of duty. Indeed, that was part of the reason why General George Casey was unsuccessful in Iraq; he was hunkered down in Baghdad and he was not communicating effectively with people either in Iraq or in the United States to explain and defend his strategy.
Article continues on Commentary Magazine’s site