If you wanted to underscore the continuity in strategy that exists for Afghanistan and Pakistan now that President Obama has fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, there is absolutely no more potent symbol of* doubling down* on that strategy than to place Gen. David H. Petraeus — the foremost counterinsurgent in the military and the most respected and distinguished Army officer since Colin Powell — at the helm of the faltering NATO war in Afghanistan. Politically, it’s a masterstroke. Not only was his name never mentioned as a replacement for McChrystal, but he’s a secular saint in Washington.
Substantively, there it is: the officer most credited with miracle work from Iraq, an architect of the current strategy in Afghanistan, going to attempt to pull the war out of the fire. It’s an amazing expression of faith — not just in Petraeus, but in the strategy itself. With one crucially important caveat: Petraeus’s conception of the July 2011 date for transition to Afghan security control is most certainly not what many progressive supporters of Obama and opponents of the war hope. He told the Senate last week that he supports the date as a way of pressing President Karzai to perform, but understands it as a very gradual “conditions based” withdrawal of U.S. troops. And while he said that it wasn’t “envisioned” to send more troops to Afghanistan, he refused to rule it out as an option. Petraeus’s accidental arrival in Afghanistan signifies Obama has firmly sided with Petraeus against Vice President Biden, who wants a very substantial drawdown of U.S. forces beginning in 2011.
Now expect to hear all this from Obama and Petraeus themselves.