Audio: NPR asks Petraeus, "How does this end?"

Answer: A hell of a lot better than it would have if the left had had its way last year, although naturally he’s prohibited from saying so. But couple his response to the question with his point that withdrawal has to be conditions-based and it’s clear what he thinks the consequences of a significant U.S. drawdown in the near term would be. Good thing Barack Obama no longer favors one.

He says he’ll have further recommendations for withdrawal — again, conditions permitting — next month, which could be quite the monkey wrench in the two parties’ convention messages, needless to say. My hunch is that as the Iraq debate gets more nuanced with “time horizons” versus “timetables” and McCain and Obama increasingly borrowing elements of each other’s rhetoric, most voters will simply shrug off whatever Petraeus has to say. If I’m wrong, though, then which way will it break if the world’s most credible opponent of timetables decides they can now comfortably lose another two brigades, say? Superficially, any withdrawal helps Obama, but since one of Maverick’s biggest liabilities is the “100 years” comment, having an authority and de facto ally like Petraeus bless a modest drawdown is something McCain should be able to coopt to reassure the public that he’s not interested in occupation for the sake of occupation.

Speaking of generals opposed to hasty withdrawal, Tom Maguire asks a good question: Where is Gen. Zinni these days? The ranks of military authorities touted by doves have been thin ever since Gen. Batiste came around on the surge. Who’s left at this point besides Wes Clark?

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