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Welcome, Petraeus

http://www.mjdonline.com In changing commanders in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama performed a distasteful but necessary task, and did it reasonably well. He summoned Gen. Stanley McChrystal home and met with him at the White House to allow the general to give his side of a story that showed an alarming lack of professional judgment. Within hours of that meeting, Obama was outside the Oval Office to announce he was accepting McChrystal’s resignation. To stress that the change was about personnel, and not policy, the president was surrounded by his top national security advisers – Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen and his choice to succeed McChrystal, Gen. David Petraeus, being called on for the second time by a president faced with a military situation slipping out of control. This was more than just the usual human window dressing for a Washington announcement. It was intended as a demonstration to our allies, Congress and perhaps especially our own military that the administration’s national security team and its Afghanistan policy were not in the disarray that McChrystal had seemed to imply. The simple truth of the matter was that Obama had little choice but to push his errant general out. The president would have looked weak and ineffectual had he not. Keeping McChrystal on – especially since this was the second time the president had called him on the carpet for impolitic remarks – would have been a sign to the military that Obama was prepared to tolerate conduct perilously close to insubordination. In a Rolling Stone profile of McChrystal, his aides ridiculed or joked about the president, the vice president, the White House national security adviser, the U.S. ambassador to Kabul and the president’s special representative to Afghanistan. After that, there was no way the necessary sense of trust between the field command and Washington could have been rebuilt. Perhaps taking to heart the criticism that he seemed aloof and indecisive in handling the Gulf spill, Obama was suitably forceful and direct in announcing the change of command. He was also gracious to McChrystal, who by that time was back at the Pentagon, praising him as “one of our nation’s finest soldiers.” Petraeus, now head of Central Command, was the architect of the surge that reversed the spiraling violence in Iraq in 2007 to 2008, to the point where the U.S. can contemplate largely pulling out this year. The conditions in Afghanistan are even more intractable, and the American public’s support for the war, which has gone on since a few months after 9/11, is waning. Obama repeated his goals for the Afghan theater – defeat al-Qaida, break the Taliban’s momentum and increase the strength and capacity of the Afghan and Pakistani governments. But the fact is that Obama has never seemed enthused about winning the war – having declined to send McChrystal as many troops as he had requested, having set an arbitrary date for their return next year and having never once uttered the word “victory” in connection with Afghanistan. It sure isn’t the way Franklin Roosevelt went about rallying the country to win World War II. The Senate must confirm Petraeus to his new post. The hearings will be an opportunity for the general to say whether these goals are realistically capable of accomplishment.

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