Petraeus’ Headache

Chris Cilizza, who has writes the political blog The Daily Fix for The Washington Post, this week named General Petraeus as the man who had “The Worst Week in Washington”. Truthfully speaking, President Obama’s decision to name General Petraeus as the head of military operations in Afghanistan leaves the General in an impossible situation. After brilliant tactical strategies and unwavering resolve in the face of political pressure helped push the Petraeus led “surge” in Iraq to success, it will take nothing short of a second Hail Mary miracle to save the US mission in Afghanistan. As Senator McCain complained on NBC’s “Meet the Press” today, “General Petraeus is put in an almost untenable position.” Petraeus will have to follow the Administration’s current battle plan with includes drawing down troops by July 2011, handicapping the already tough war effort. Furthermore, when Petraeus arrives for Senate confirmation hearings later this month, he will surely be grilled by members of both parties, but especially liberal Democrats, many who are weary of the continuing war effort. As Cilizza wrote in this post, “Much more vital, Petraeus will become co-proprietor with Obama of a war that many military strategists say is unwinnable — even for a strategic guru like Petraeus. McChrystal’s own chief of operations offered perhaps the most telling quote in the Rolling Stone article: ‘It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win.’”
For a general who has received near God-like status among neo-cons, Petraeus will surely face the defining moment of his legacy in Afghanistan. Win, with all the cards stacked against him, and he will be forever remembered as one of the greatest military leaders in our country’s history; fail, and he will perhaps share the fate of other leaders like General Douglas MacArthur, who followed up great successes in WWII with insubordination and chaos in the Korean War. Petraeus, who until now was sitting comfortably in Tampa, Florida as the commander of Central Command, overseeing the battlefronts in Iraq and Afghanistan, heading towards premonition in the Joint-Chiefs, is now being dragged headfirst into the Afghanistan quagmire. Perhaps if there were one person who could win in Afghanistan, it would be Petraeus, yet it is certainly much different from daily briefings and meetings with Congressional leaders on the Hill.
On the other hand, if there is one person who comes out ahead after all of this, it is probably President Obama. After General McChrystal’s backhanded comments about the Administration’s war handling came to light in a shady exclusive done by a largely unknown freelancer for Rolling Stone, Obama faced a no-win situation. Fire McChrystal and some would begin to question his commitment to winning the war in Afghanistan, and liberal doves would jump on the opportunity to suggest that the war should be scaled back; leave McChrystal in place, and critics would conclude that McChrystal’s comments about the lackluster performances of Ambassador Eikenberry and diplomat Holbrooke were indeed legitimate. Instead, by firing McCrystal decisively, Obama was given the opportunity to demonstrate that he was Commander-in-Chief and would not have this authority questioned, while picking Petraeus allows Obama to continue along the same war plan. Furthermore, if one is thinking politically, by bringing Petraeus back into the fold, the President is neutralizing a potential electoral rival. Some Republicans had thought that Petraeus would be the strongest challenger to President Obama in the 2012 Presidential election, an assertion the General repeatedly rejected,  yet by signing on Petraeus for the war, this completely ends speculation for that possibility. Additionally, if the end result of Afghanistan is a crash and burn exit or disgraceful pullout, General Petraeus’ credibility will crumble with the fallout, reducing a center of Republicans’ attacks on the President. If Afghanistan fails under Petraeus’ watch, Obama will be able to say that he put his all in the war, and that the war was just unwinnable. For a President, who basically backed-into a war escalation in Afghanistan, this would probably be an acceptable ending. For now, only time will tell, while I know that everyone is hoping for the best outcome possible out of Afghanistan, I will certainly be praying for another miracle in Kandahar.
Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons – US_Air_Force

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