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Gen. Petraeus's pregnant pause on Afghanistan

Gen. David Petraeus’s momentary faint got all the attention at the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning. But before the faint came the pause -- a hesitation by the general in answering a question that spoke volumes about the Obama administration’s troubles in Afghanistan.

The moment came when Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the committee chairman, asked Petraeus about the July 2011 date President Obama set last December for beginning U.S. troop withdrawals. “When you say that you continue to support the president’s policy both in terms of the additional troops but also the setting of that date to begin the reduction,” Levin pressed, “... does that represent your best personal professional judgment?”

The silence in the chamber was ringing as Petraeus hesitated. Probably something between five and 10 seconds passed, but it seemed much longer. At last, the four-star chief of Central Command spoke: “In a perfect world, Mr. Chairman, we have to be very careful with timelines.”

Petraeus went on to describe how he had managed U.S. troop withdrawals during the surge in Iraq. He reiterated that he supports “the policy of the president.” But, he added, “There was a nuance to what the president said that was very important, that did not imply a race for the exits.”

Implicit in those comments was a recognition of the problem that has haunted the U.S. mission ever since Obama laid out his strategy -- and that continues to divide his military and civilian aides. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) bluntly described the trouble at the hearing, saying the deadline is “convincing the key actors inside and outside of Afghanistan that the United States is more interested in leaving than succeeding in this conflict. And as a result, they’re all making the necessary accommodations for a post-American Afghanistan.”

That seems to be true of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has been moving toward negotiations with the Taliban despite the reservations of U.S. commanders, and who last week fired two of the three members of his cabinet who have been closest to the United States. McCain cited an interview that one of those dismissed, intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh, gave last week to the New York Times, in which he suggested, as the senator put it, “that President Karzai no longer believes the United States will succeed and that he is shifting, as a result, to a policy of accommodation with the Taliban and the Pakistani military.”

Before he briefly took ill and the hearing was suspended, Petraeus said he disagreed with that description of Karzai. But McCain also drew a telling contrast between Petraeus’s account of the July 2011 withdrawal date and that of Vice President Biden, who is known to be the leader in the White House of a faction opposed to the counterinsurgency strategy Petraeus and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, are trying to implement.

Petraeus, quoting Obama’s December speech at West Point, said, “what happens in July 2011 is a beginning of a process for transition that is conditions-based, and the beginning of a ... responsible drawdown of U.S. forces.”

McCain then read Biden’s version, as quoted by Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter in a recently released book: “In July of 2011, you are going to see a whole lot of people moving out,” the vice president told Alter. “Bet on it.”

That sounds a lot like a un-nuanced race for the exits. It also sounds like the version that Karzai has internalized, judging by his recent actions. Hence the general’s long pause.

By Jackson Diehl  | June 15, 2010; 12:12 PM ET
Categories:  Diehl  | Tags:  Jackson Diehl  
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Eight years ago the U.S. had a chance to get this right. Soon we will be looking for a "Peace With Honor" to get the hell out.

Posted by: newsraptor | June 15, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

If I recall correctly, the withdrawal will be in increments assuming metrics agreed to many months ago are met.

And that is the issue: What are the many Afghan soldiers or police are trained and in the field. Certainly, after 9 years of the training initiative, many of us have little confidence the training metric will be or ever.

One must are the insurgents re-arming themselves as well as sustaining themselves as we fight them in the south?

When there is an accident and locals are killed...thousands go to the streets..when a suicide bomber kills 35 people at a wedding...nothing. These are the questions those in command now must reply to...

Is there anything we can do now to take us back to 2002...nothing...and perhaps all we can do is simply insure no terrorists camps are built in those areas along the border.

As far as bring Afghanistan into the 21st century...the people of Afghanistan must initiate that option...

Posted by: LTC-11A | June 15, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Obama's withdraw target date may have slightly motivated the Karzai government to speed its readiness to take over as US troops leave -- but probably not. It is even less likely that it is anything the insurgency is counting on. Obama has a record of broken promises. Why should the Taliban take him at his word when so many Americans don't?

Posted by: Adam_Smith | June 15, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Thanks be to God Almighty for this fainting spell. Now the President, who lacks the intestinal fortitude to fire an insubordinate General, can instead ask him to step down for reasons of ill health.

People who understand the situation in Afghanistan - described below - are chagrined that McCain and Petraeus are posing as strategic geniuses, when neither one has a clue what kind of a mess we have gotten into in that war.


The war in Afghanistan started out as revenge against the wrong country, after a bunch of Saudis attacked us on 9/11. Somehow, the Bush Administration was too friendly with the Saudi Royal Family to punish them for the attack.
By mid-2002, the US military had unseated the Taliban government, as punishment for not agreeing to a pipeline deal with Texas oil companies. The President tried to blame Taliban for the attack by the Saudis, but those Americans who can spell their own name (most of us) saw through that baloney. Our only real enemy in Afghanistan at that time was al-Qaeda remnants, but they were too hard to find, so we fought the locals instead.

Then, from 2002 to 2007, the Afghanistan War went into remission. In order to invade Iraq, we essentially quit fighting in Afghanistan, and basically just were treading water there.
But in 2007/2008, when he faced defeat in Iraq, President Bush geared the A'stan war back up, to divert attention. Since late 2007, the US has been fighting to subjugate the population. Al-Qaeda has left the country, and Taliban are really just local militias who are fighting to get us to leave them alone.
Bottom line, the US military is in Afghanistan to deny the population the right to govern themselves. Tragically, our soldiers are fighting today AGAINST the principles and values in our Constitution. That is only possible due to corruption in the corps of senior Generals, who have dumped support of the Constitution in favor of their political ambitions.

Posted by: BrianX9 | June 15, 2010 2:00 PM | Report abuse

BrianX9, On 9/11/01 Saudi Arabia did not attack us, al qaeda did.

Among the members of this gang of thugs were Egyptians, Saudis, Yemenis and others. None of these thugs, including bin laden, represented the governments of their national origins nor had any official links to that government.

What they did have, however, was the full support and aid of the Taliban. At that moment the Taliban had a dictatorial hold on the Afghan nation. Not only did the Taliban harbor al qaeda, they gave them operational support.

It is irresponsible and unproductive to continue to repeat these ridiculous fictions.

I agree, however, that Petraeus is the wrong man for the task but not because he is insubordinate. I think Obama dealt with that. Petraeus is the wrong man because he is not operationally capable.

Posted by: TOMMYBASEBALL | June 15, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Whether the year is 2010, 2010, 2021, or 2111, Afghanistan will consists of millions of semi-literates who associate with tribes, loathe the outer world, lascerate uppity women, enjoy public executions of apostates, and crave any chance to take pot shots at infidels who try to run the shop. The central army, when it appears, will be the palace guard of whatever warlord has the most guns. The army we train now consists 30% of Taliban spies and 70% of hungry men with no option, but who will not help identify fight against kin we call "Taliban," but which to them are brother or cousin. The Taliban can take refuge where it pleases in Pakisan, or simply count on "blind eyes" in the Pashto areas. There is no basis for counterinsurgency, other than using one tribe to inform on the other.

Obama will probably roll forward the "exit date" so that lack of progress will keep Afghanistan out of the 2012 campaign debates. A "finish the job right" scheme to roll out late this year will establish "benchmarks" conveniently scheduled to begin in 2013 or something. By then, maybe we can stitch together a script for a decorous bug-out, and Petraeus can retire. Then the Taliban will converge on Kabul and ...

Posted by: jkoch2 | June 15, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

If it was up to McCain- we would still be fighting in Vietnam.

Posted by: David77 | June 15, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

This is the kind of strategy you get from a President who wants to be all things to all people.

A 3 year continuation so he can say he didn't go back on his campaign promise, and a 2011 pullout to get the anit-war people to vote for his reelection.

If he wasn't worrying about his reelection, he should have either started the draw down directly, or wholeheartedly supported the war w/o political deadlines.

Bush made alot of mistakes but did two good things:

1. He constantly made the case to the public about the wars.

2. Didn't impose artificial deadlines on the generals.

Posted by: moebius22 | June 15, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

The reality seems to be that even on the most optimistic view, the military's current plan involves giving up on most of Afghanistan's territory and focusing our efforts on a few key population centers. It should be obvous that the best that strategy can manage is stabalizing a large enough segment of the Afghan population to give them a reasonable chance of gaining control over the country over an extended time long after we are gone at least from our major military role. Given the history of Afganistan and the reality of our current situation, even that goal looks wildly optimistic.

Posted by: dnjake | June 15, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Well. Timelines can be dangerous. But making Karzai's duty to unify afghan tribal culture is a sterile strategy with or without timelines whiiole the Taliban is more united every time and so stronger. Scenario should be changed. Let the Taliban to try to unify Afghan tribal culture while any Karzai should be what the Taliban is now. You will see how difficult is unifying Afghanistan even for the Taliban.

Posted by: whatcrisisiii | June 15, 2010 3:07 PM | Report abuse

God has a way of giving us back what we give to others. Petraeus lied underoath for the Bush Administration and allowed thousands of young soldiers to die based on complete lies. He covered up the assassination of Pat Tillman and several female soldiers who were raped and murdered under Petraeus's watch. Petraeus need not ask God why the answer is the faces of the dead when he closes his eyes. My prayers and tears go to the brave young soldiers Petraeus allowed to die. May God have mercy on Petraeus's soul for the evil and sin he committed.

Posted by: qqbDEyZW | June 15, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

What strategic objectives are there?


The cost to project force to the other side of the world to secure minerals for Russia and China is beyond measure.

Bring our troops home NOW.

And let Russia and China fight for it themselves.

Posted by: WillSeattle | June 15, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Recomended reading: The War on Galia by Julius Caesar. Abstract: The only battle he openly lost. Trying to take a capital in the "traditional" way. Romans were totally defeated. Since such affront to the Caesar he was able to understand quickly. It was about constant movement looking for enemy tribus to divide. Any attack on any city was always a try to make such division to work. It was not about any big battle on any city until the correct moment.

Posted by: whatcrisisiii | June 15, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

"implicit in those comments", Diehl says...
is bla blah blah

"it seemed like..."

" sounds like an unnuanced race"...etc\

Diehl knows nothing on the subject...and which ever ISRAELI GENERAL briefed him
also has a bias and stupidity that is galling.

The Jews want American troops in the area, however. Leaving is as bad as the Wolfowitz' of the world not having succeeded in conning the hapless Bush into war in the first place.

A poster says the US started the war against the "wrong country"...right, but he names the Saudis as the ones we should've attacked.

WHY, one wonders, are the Jews so brave again? Is it that their nasty gig in getting rid of Helen Thomas means they can run everything? Don't think so.

Posted by: whistling | June 15, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

McCain said the same thing about Iraq.

Who started the Christian Oil Crusades in Afghanistan and what part of it is motivated by protecting UNOCAL's pipeline and Israel's interests?

As one of AIPAC foremost spokespeople, Diehl, please plainly and bluntly tell us what Israel wants its US colony to do to solve the problem.

Posted by: areyousaying | June 15, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Brian9X wrote: Thanks be to God Almighty for this fainting spell.

I suppose you're one of those pray to your small and shallow God Almighty for Obama's death as well.

Posted by: areyousaying | June 15, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

The only reason we kiss Saudi Arabia's backside and tolerate its radical Muslim extremism is because we're addicted to it's oil. G'dam the pusher man.

Posted by: areyousaying | June 15, 2010 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Anything coming from John McCain should be disregarded. John McCain is by no means a military expert, and the fact that John McCain is a warmonger. There's other reason too, that whatever McCain says should be disregarded. Since losing the election McCain is content to just oppose everything. He turned into a frustrated old man that's has a personal hatred vicious vendetta, against anyone that he deems responsible for his humbling presidential defeat. Beside McCain is a hateful fool, anyone that goes around saying that we should "pull the nuclear trigger on Iran" and is sick enough to sing "Bomb Bomb Bomb" isn't fit to hold office. John McCain should be removed from the Senate Armed Service Committee. Hopefully he'll be defeated in his state's primary or the general election.

Posted by: budsan1 | June 15, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

Anything coming from John McCain should be disregarded. John McCain is by no means a military expert, and the fact that John McCain is a warmonger. There's other reason too, that whatever McCain says should be disregarded. Since losing the election McCain is content to just oppose everything. He turned into a frustrated old man that's has a personal hatred vicious vendetta, against anyone that he deems responsible for his humbling presidential defeat. Beside McCain is a hateful fool, anyone that goes around saying that we should "pull the nuclear trigger on Iran" and is sick enough to sing "Bomb Bomb Bomb" isn't fit to hold office. Another reason McCain shouldn't be listen to, is his close ties to the big oil companies. John McCain should be removed from the Senate Armed Service Committee. Hopefully he'll be defeated in his state's primary or the general election.

Posted by: budsan1 | June 15, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Afghanistan and Talaban did not attack us:ben laden did and he is still vactioning in the mountains there.

GWB and his boss, Dick Cheney and AIPAC/jews such as wolfwaitz heavily promoted the invasion and destruction of Iraq which had a secualr regime and had nothing to do with 911;

But AIPAC and jews pushed the US to invade iraq on false pretext because "that would be good for isrl."

the invasion of Iraq was not for oil:saddam was not going to drink oil and he was a friend of Donald Rumesfeld-the Cobra Head.

Posted by: asizk | June 15, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

I guess it would make a difference if there were any chance of us succeeding (in the way most US citizens picture 'success'). There isn't.

We have yet to embrace the fundamental math behind our 'get em over there' strategy. We are over-spent and attenuated, we have a broken military that is too headstrong to ask for help (the draft), so we tortuously slog on. Each political faction in the US too worried about their votes to do the right thing. Optimism is good until it makes no damn sense.

We're still working from our own mindset and interpretation, ignoring the much more relevant mindset of our enemy.

Posted by: blackmask | June 15, 2010 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Its pretty obvious by now that we are going nowhere in Afgan and the best course of action is to bug. Troops are dying for nothing every day. The afgans are crooked. The ruskies found out the hard way, now it is our turn. Peace with honor..

Posted by: texas234 | June 15, 2010 6:28 PM | Report abuse

These wars in the middle east are nothing more than a terrible waste of lives and money. And on top of that, they're counterproductive.

Posted by: John991 | June 15, 2010 6:32 PM | Report abuse

Am glad that Petraeus recovered quickly - those McCain speeches can be deadly.

I find it ironic that the right wing spent years trying to convince us that the Iraqis were behind 9/11, so that we would invade Iraq. Now the left is trying to tell us that the Saudis were behind it so that we will withdraw from Afghanistan.

Al Qaeda is in Afghanistan and Pakistan, not Iraq or Saudi Arabia. We need to get the people who killed 3,000 Americans nine years ago.

Posted by: maggots | June 15, 2010 8:13 PM | Report abuse

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