As Gen. David Petraeus prepares for his next command, his supporters are hoping he can rescue a failing war for the second time in just a few years. But both the dire state of the war effort in Afghanistan and his approach to taking command in Iraq in early 2007 suggest that Petraeus will not try to replicate an apparent — and temporary — success that he knows was at least in part the result of fortuitous circumstances in Iraq. Instead he will maneuver to avoid having to go down with what increasingly appears to be a failed counterinsurgency war.
Petraeus must be acutely aware that the war plan which he approved in 2009 has not worked. Early this month, he received Stanley A. McChrystal’s last classified assessment of the war, reported in detail in The Independent Sunday. That assessment showed that no clear progress had been made since the U.S. offensive began in February and none was expected for the next six months.
Petraeus is not going to pledge in his confirmation hearings to achieve in 18 months what McChrystal has said cannot be achieved in the next six months. Pro-war Republicans, led by John McCain, are hoping that Petraeus will now insist that the July 2011 time frame be eliminated, creating an open-ended commitment to a high and perhaps even rising level of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
Gareth Porter is an investigative journalist and historian specializing in U.S. national security policy. His most recent book is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam (University of California Press, 2006).