The Campaign in Afghanistan: Neutralizing Petraeus, Though Not the Taliban?

Rolling Stone just published an excerpt from Michael Hastings’ new book, The Operators.

Click through to read the whole thing (I expect Jim will weigh in as well). But for the moment, consider the irony of this passage, given all that has transpired.

I asked him about Petraeus. He said his relationship with Petraeus was “complex.” He’d replaced Dave three times in five years in jobs. “You know, I’ve been one step behind him.”

Petraeus had uncharacteristically kept a low profile over the past year. He didn’t seem to want to get publicly attached to the war in Afghani­stan. He’d had his triumph in Iraq, and military officials speculated that he knew there was no way the Afghanistan war was going to turn out well. That it was a loser, and he was happy enough to let McChrystal be left holding the bag.

“He couldn’t command this,” McChrystal said. “Plus, he’s one and ‘oh.’ This one is very questionable.”

Petraeus had been “wonderfully supportive,” though, despite the competition between the two. Within military circles, there was a long-standing debate over who should get more credit for what was considered the success in Iraq—McChrystal running JSOC in the shadows, or Pe­traeus for instituting the overall counterinsurgency strategy. After Obama took office, the White House had told Petraeus to stay out of the spot-light—they were worried about the general’s presidential ambitions and they were afraid he would overshadow the young president, McChrystal explained.

The White House told McChrystal, “‘We don’t want a man on horse­back.’ I said I don’t even have a horse. They are very worried about Pe­traeus. They certainly don’t have to be worried about me,” McChrystal said. “But Petraeus, if he wanted to run, he’s had a lot of offers. He says he doesn’t want to, and I believe him.”

“I think he seems like a smart enough guy that in 2012, as a journal­ist, as someone who covered the campaign—” I started to say.

“Do you think he could win?” McChrystal asked me.

“Not in 2012,” I said. “I think in 2016 it would be a no-brainer. But I’ve seen it happen to these guys who get built up, built up, built up . . . If he steps into it in 2012, the narrative is ‘Oh, he shouldn’t have done that. Is that a dishonorable thing to do for an honorable general?’ And that is the narrative. That’s the first cover of Time.” [my emphasis]

McChrystal speculates to Hastings about the Obama Administration’s insecurity regarding David Petraeus (a speculation I agree with). That’s why, McChrystal claims, the showboat Petraeus had gotten so quiet.

But McChrystal offered another reason for Petraeus’ silence: Petraeus wanted to stay away from the taint of Afghanistan, which everyone seemed sure wasn’t going to work out so well.

So after Hastings’ original article–revealing the frank comments of McChrystal’s staffers came out, what happens? Petraeus has to follow McChrystal, commanding the war that everyone seems anxious to blame someone else for. Obama gets rid of McChrystal, but also taints Petraeus with precisely the stinker war he seems to want to avoid.

Mind you, Petraeus has since moved on, now commanding the purportedly secret drone campaigns in other countries.

Still, read now, against the background of Administration attempts (partly negotiated by Petraeus, I wonder?) to get a face-saving peace with the Taliban, it seems all the more sordid.

Afghanistan–where a purportedly broke America continues to dump billions of dollars–seemed to be treated more as a battleground for arrogant men to fight their own political battles than a war anyone aspired to winning.

8 replies
  1. rugger9 says:

    I am on record here in the comment world about the mistake Obama made in putting Petraeus in charge of CIA, as well as the prediction that the GOP primaries will not yield a nominee. My 2 cents is that Petraeus will then run as a Rethug with Koch money and Rovian support with the undeserved aura of victorious generalship. After all, he did actually lose 9 billion in cash as well as tons of AK-47s in Iraq, supervised Abu Ghraib and Bagram [among others], helped cover up Tillman’s investigation, etc., etc. There will be no accountability, however, since in his current perch he can “sculpt” narratives and purported evidence to spike his vulnerabilities, as well as to exploit [and probably create] ones tied to Obama. In this he has Cheney’s cronies [or Gosslings] as allies in the shadows.

    That McChrystal doesn’t are for him doesn’t surprise me, at their level political considerations become very important. Don’t think that Stanley doesn’t have aspirations of his own, they all do.

  2. rugger9 says:

    In addition, Koch will buy all the air time, and Rove will design the message to fool the masses.

    Obama is in more trouble than he thinks, head fakery is a Republican political staple.

  3. prostratedragon says:

    Well, this is at least the second time someone’s presidential ambitions have been consigned to Langley for burial. ([snap] Missed that turnoff at Arlington!) And that’s also pretty sordid.

  4. MarkH says:

    Petraeus said we could succeed in Afghanistan.

    McChrystal did a good job in Afghanistan against al Qaeda.

    What else is important?

    Obama is doing well and has nothing to fear wrt foreign policy. That’s why KKKarl is attacking him via Romney negative ads on foreign policy. Of course Romney/Rove has to attack Obama on all fronts because Obama has been successful on all fronts except unemployment.

  5. Bob Schacht says:

    My take is that Obama agreed to an exit from Iraq gambling that it won’t decompose fast enough or loudly enough to impact the 2012 elections (he hopes!), and has planned the exit from Afghanistan so that it will happen on his watch (so he can take credit for “ending” two wars), but so late that the next uprising in Afghanistan will happen on someone else’s watch. It would not surprise me that managing Petraus was part of those calculations. Thanks for this assessment.

    Bob in AZ

  6. Acharn says:

    @Bob Schacht: “My take is that Obama agreed to an exit from Iraq gambling that it won’t decompose fast enough or loudly enough to impact the 2012 elections (he hopes!)…” That’s interesting. My take was that Obama tried to persuade the Iraqis to let us keep at least 10,000 troops there and they politely said, “No, thank you.” And then he was forced to obey the Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that his predecessor, George W. Bush, negotiated with those same Iraqis who declined his kind offer of keeping around 50,000 American troops there forever. What’s with this story that Barack Obama decided to pull our troops out? It wasn’t his decision and he fought against it as much as he decently could (I would say a little more than that) and in the end he had to do what he promised and the American and Iraqi people wanted. Sheesh!

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