Showdown: Petraeus to ask for more time for Afghanistan mission

Not a surprise given what he said at his confirmation hearing a few weeks ago, but nonetheless this is bound to make an awful lot of people — on both sides — very fidgety. And Tom Maguire’s right: Opposition to the war is at a simmer right now because Democrats control Congress and don’t want to kneecap Obama by cutting off war funding. That equation changes if the GOP retakes the House, though — and not just for Democrats. Will Republicans be as gung ho to keep an unpopular war going once they control the pursestrings again? Especially when even grassroots heroes like Ann Coulter are pounding the table about withdrawal?

With the administration unable yet to point to much tangible evidence of progress, Gen. David H. Petraeus, who assumed command in Afghanistan last month from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, is taking several steps to emphasize hopeful signs on the ground that, he will argue, would make a rapid withdrawal unwise. Meanwhile, a rising generation of young officers, who have become experts over the past nine years in the art of counterinsurgency, have begun quietly telling administration officials that they need time to get their work done.

“Their argument,” said one senior administration official, who would not speak for attribution about the internal policy discussions, “is that while we’ve been in Afghanistan for nine years, only in the past 12 months or so have we started doing this right, and we need to give it some time and think about what our long-term presence in Afghanistan should look like.”…

At the core of the timetables, they say, is what White House officials call the “two-year rule.” During the review of Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy, Mr. Gates made the argument, according to one participant in the White House Situation Room discussions, that “in any particular location you should be able to clear, build, hold and transfer” to the Afghan forces within two years. Military officials said two years was roughly how long it took to make headway in difficult places, once troops were in place.

Petraeus will be on the chat shows this weekend to make the case publicly. I’m actually surprised that he’s starting to push this now; it makes more political sense for Obama to have him do it after the midterms, when there are no electoral consequences in asking to extend a war that’s increasingly identified with Democrats. Presumably he nixed that idea because the long-awaited Kandahar campaign is set to begin later this year and the optics of demanding more time in the middle of a tough battle might be awkward. Better to float the idea this summer, before the shooting starts, so that the public doesn’t read it as a desperation move taken in response to a hard fight later.

Speaking of Kandahar and desperation: Where’s Keyser Soze Mullah Omar?