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Why Petraeus Won't Salvage This War
One of the purposes of the reassessment of strategy will presumably be to identify objectives that need to modified or dropped because they cannot be achieved. Petraeus may abandon McChrystal's plan to expel the Taliban from key districts in Helmand and Kandahar provinces as a metric of success because it has proven to be beyond the capabilities of the coalition forces and the Afghan government.
Petraeus's realism should align him more closely with the Obama administration's approach than it did with that of George W. Bush on Iraq. With Bush, Petraeus had to manage a president who was always talking about "victory" over the insurgents, whereas Petraeus was thinking in terms of political accommodation, at least with the Sunnis. Both Obama and Petraeus now rule out "victory" over the Taliban, and Petraeus, like Obama, foresees the possibility of a settlement with the Taliban, with the involvement of the Pakistanis.
As Gen. David Petraeus prepares for his next command, his supporters are hoping he can rescue a failing war for the second time in just a few years. But both the dire state of the war effort in Afghanistan and his approach to taking command in Iraq in early 2007 suggest that Petraeus will not try to replicate an apparent -- and temporary -- success that he knows was at least in part the result of fortuitous circumstances in Iraq. Instead he will maneuver to avoid having to go down with what increasingly appears to be a failed counterinsurgency war.
Petraeus must be acutely aware that the war plan which he approved in 2009 has not worked. Early this month, he received Stanley A. McChrystal's last classified assessment of the war, reported in detail in The Independent Sunday. That assessment showed that no clear progress had been made since the U.S. offensive began in February and none was expected for the next six months.
Petraeus is not going to pledge in his confirmation hearings to achieve in 18 months what McChrystal has said cannot be achieved in the next six months. Pro-war Republicans, led by John McCain, are hoping that Petraeus will now insist that the July 2011 time frame be eliminated, creating an open-ended commitment to a high and perhaps even rising level of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Read more.