America

Applauding Petraeus Pick, Pundits Suggest Changes To Civilian Af/Pak Team

As expected, plenty of analysts, bloggers and editorialists opined about President Obama's decision to accept the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, replacing him with Gen. David Petraeus.

Several pieces center on what the president should do with his civilian team in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Here is a sample of what has been written so far:

On his blog, The Best Defense, Tom Ricks notes that. "for the second time in three years, Gen. David Petraeus is bailing out a president."

Our biggest problem in Afghanistan is the government we are supporting there, and it isn't clear to me what Petraeus can do about that.

Putting Petraeus in command in Afghanistan is only the first step. Now, what about Ambassador Eikenberry and special envoy Holbrooke?

Ricks also had a piece on the opinion page of The New York Times, called "Lose a General, Win a War," in which he makes the same point more forcefully:

Mr. Obama should then replace them with a team that has a single person clearly in control, with the power to hire and fire the others. And he should send that new group to Kabul with clear orders that they should get along, or expect to be relieved.

Fred Kaplan, writing for Slate, echoes Ricks.  He argues that, "if U.S. policy isn't going to change, [Gen. Karl] Eikenberry[, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan], too, should go," adding "Richard Holbrooke should be sent packing, as well."

He's the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, but after he screamed at Karzai at one of their meetings, he's no longer welcome at the palace in Kabul. (It took a trip by Sen. John Kerry and 300 cups of tea to settle the Afghan president down.) Holbrooke would have been canned a while ago, were it not for special pleading by his immediate boss and longtime friend, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But, as Obama said today, "War is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general, or a president." He should expand the list to include "a special envoy."

According to H.D.S. Greenway, a columnist for The Boston Globe, "the military has reason to fear that its civilian masters lack its resolve."

Consider that Obama’s special representative, Richard Holbrooke, said in March that US policy was to peel-off lower levels of Taliban commanders, but not negotiate with the leadership. Recently, however, he said that the policy had shifted and the United States was now in favor of “Afghan-led reconciliation efforts.’’

Arguing "no one is better qualified than General David Petraeus to replace his former deputy and run a counterinsurgency," the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal said that "the larger questions now are whether the President can exert as much policy discipline over his civilian subordinates as he has on the military — and whether he's willing to make a political investment in the war commensurate with military service."

In naming General Petraeus, the President made an astute political and military choice. But there is also a hint here of a last stand, with the General again being put in the unenviable position of having to turn the tide of a failing war. The General might have been too deferential to make this point himself, but we hope he asked the President in return to give him all the support he needs to succeed.

The President could help on this score by deploying a civilian team to Afghanistan that gets along with their U.S. military counterparts and Afghanistan's leaders. We like Senator John McCain's suggestion to replace U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry — whose relationship with Mr. Karzai is as poisonous as his dealings were with General McChrystal — with former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. Mr. Crocker, who also previously served as a highly effective U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, understands there is no diplomatic mileage to be gained by undercutting the very government the U.S. is seeking to shore up.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board also applauds the Petraeus pick, but wants to see proof that the American military's strategy is working:

What worries us still is that the government has yet to present Americans with explicit, clearly articulated benchmarks for assessing progress in the war. With a year to go before the U.S. is scheduled to begin drawing down troops, we've seen no evidence that the counterinsurgency strategy that Obama endorsed again Wednesday is succeeding.

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