I’ll bet they will. Remember, in his own terse, diplomatic way, Petraeus has sounded notably cool to The One’s plan to start withdrawing next July. Last week in Senate testimony he warned that “we have to be careful about timelines,” then added this:
“It’s important that July 2011 be seen for what it is, the date when a process begins based on conditions, not the date when the U.S. heads for the exits,” said Petraeus. “Moreover, my agreement with the president’s decisions was based on projections of conditions in July 2011. Needless to say, we’ll do all that is humanly possible to achieve those conditions.”
He added that of course he’ll support whatever decision Obama ultimately makes. DrewM is taking Petraeus’s appointment as a sign that The One intends to double down on Afghanistan, but I’m not so sure that’s true. There were a lot of reasons to pick him as McChrystal’s successor: He literally wrote the book on the counterinsurgency strategy that we’re following in Afghanistan; he’s deeply respected for his Iraq success, which should minimize grumbling in the ranks about McChrystal’s ouster; he’s the head of Centcom, so he already has plenty of experience dealing with the Afghan and Pakistani leaderships; and he won’t stand for the sort of backbiting among his subordinates that the White House and Karl Eikenberry had to endure from McChrystal’s team. Most of all, though, he’s the perfect political cover. If Petraeus can turn things around in a year, wonderful; if he can’t, the White House can use the fact that even Iraq’s miracle worker is flailing as proof that Afghanistan is hopeless and that we shouldn’t dump any more resources into it. Politically, for The One, it’s all upside and very little downside whereas retaining McChrystal would have been the opposite. If he had kept Mac on and things didn’t turn around, any decision down the road to withdraw would be challenged by hawks on grounds that McChrystal was too weak from this incident to stand up to Obama and make the case for extending the mission. That’s gone now. Petraeus is the face of the mission going forward, which makes it hard for anyone — except Janeane Garofalo, I guess — to object to whatever happens down the road. And whatever decision that may be, Petraeus — forever the good soldier — will doubtless defend it to the best of his ability.
Make sure to watch to the end for Lieberman’s point about how long the backbiting’s been going on within the command structure in Afghanistan. Obama said today in his speech that he welcomes debate but won’t tolerate division, but that’s palpably untrue given the longstanding tensions between McChrystal and Eikenberry. Fun fact from CNN: According to an inside source, yesterday’s assertions about not making any decisions until after the meeting with McChrystal was pure pageantry. Supposedly, Obama “had no intention of keeping him.” With Petraeus waiting in the wings, no wonder.