Now that President Obama has assigned General David Petraeus to command in Afghanistan, it's worth taking a look at what this entails and what the future is likely to hold.
Obama is being praised for making a brilliant choice, but its worth noting that this same crowd enthusiastically endorsed the idea not so long ago that General 'Betray us' was lying to Congress and the American people when he was advocating his strategy for the of the U.S.-led surge in Iraq.
Strange days, children...seeing General Petraeus photographed standing next to Barack Obama and Joe Biden, two ex-Senators who insulted him to his face almost at will and did everything they could to sabotage him only three years ago now calling on him to save our efforts in Afghanistan....
In truth, Obama had very little choice except to assign General Petraeus to pull things out of the fire. If he hadn't selected General Petraeus, Obama was pretty much limited to the following list:
Ordierno is still badly needed in Iraq, Dempsey, Lynch and Mattis would need a certain amount of time we don't have to get a feel for the ground and adjust to Afghanistan and Caldwell is tainted by being part of McChrystal's team. So General Petraeus was pretty much the only real choice.He is, after all, the author of the COIN strategy we're now following, for better or worse. And if anyone is going to be able to implement it on the ground or modify it so it would work in a place like Afghanistan, it will be General Petraeus.
Additionally, General Petraeus is well known and respected not only in the military but by the American public at large. If things go badly in Afghanistan in spite of General Petraeus' best efforts and we need to do a precipitous pull out, Obama will be able to derive political cover for a failure the president engineered by sharing the blame with America's best known commander.
What Obama is really hoping for, of course, is that General Petraeus will in fact be able to replicate his feat in Iraq, where he came into a failed situation and engineered not a victory, but something that looked enough like one so that we could begin to pull out honorably.
President Obama wants the same result in Afghanistan, so he can pound his chest and take the credit.
General Petraeus is going to have quite a challenge ahead of him.
First of all, he's going to have to come up with some realistic, clear cut strategic objectives that President Obama can sign off on. At present, we don't have them. And as that granddaddy of strategic thinking Clauswitz wrote years ago, going to war without them is a recipe for disaster.
He's going to have to take a good look at the restrictive Rules of Engagement and see about revising them, again by convincing President Obama. Not only have they resulted in more US casualties without any appreciable increase in pro-US sentiment among the Afghans, they have seriously affected the morale of our troops.Indeed,he may have to take a look at the entire COIN strategy.
He's going to have to somehow resurrect a decent relationship with Hamid Karzai, and/or our own relationship with the Afghan warlords and tribal chiefs, something I suggested over two years ago. This will involve, among other things, cold hard cash just as it did with the Iraqi Sunni leaders who became part of the Awakening movement...except it will be more difficult, because the Taliban are fellow Pashtuns and respect the local tribal chiefs that don't obstruct or fight against them to a certain degree. In Iraq, the al-Qaeda insurgents had a large complement of foreigners and brutally terrorized the locals to the point where throwing in with the Americans became a better option when the price was right.
One avenue for this might be our getting involved in controlling the opium trade to choke off a major part of the Taliban's financial support.
He will need to solve the problem of Pakistan, a failed basket case of a state that shares a 1600 mile border with Afghanistan where the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies have essentially regrouped and are able to attack us in Afghanistan at will - and then fade back over the borders to bases they maintain there, with the connivance of Pakistani army, ISI intelligence service and political figures. Billions in bribes have not been effective so far at anything much beyond keeping the major supply artery of the Pakistani port of Karachi to the Torkum Pass open for our convoys.
Almost 80% of our war supplies come over this route through hostile territory, there's no effective alternative and the Pakistanis know they have us over a barrel.
Finally, he's going to have to win the war waged behind his back at home. He's under the command of Democrats who bear him no great love and who cheerfully tried their best to stab him and our troops under fire in the back not so long ago out of sheer partisan political expedience. Rest assured that there will be similar efforts going on now, and some of them may even emanate from the White House. President Obama and General Petraeus have never exactly been chummy.
All in all, this is going to be the greatest challenge of the general's military career. It's going to be a difficult rabbit to pull out of the hat, but if anyone can do it, it's General David Petraeus, and even Obama recognizes that.
I can only wish General Petraeus good luck and G-dspeed in trying to make something positive out of this mess. He's going to need it.
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