Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Dave’s back

So, for the second time in three years, Gen. David Petraeus is bailing out a president. Afghanistan 2010 may be an even tougher nut than Iraq 2007. Sure, Iraq looked like a mess back then, but the Americans hadn’t tried a lot of good ideas. In Afghanistan they have been trying them out and not ...

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

So, for the second time in three years, Gen. David Petraeus is bailing out a president.

Afghanistan 2010 may be an even tougher nut than Iraq 2007. Sure, Iraq looked like a mess back then, but the Americans hadn't tried a lot of good ideas. In Afghanistan they have been trying them out and not finding them working very well. Counterinsurgency was a novel idea in Baghdad back then. It is not anything new in Kabul right now. Our biggest problem in Afghanistan is the government we are supporting there, and it isn't clear to me what Petraeus can do about that.

Putting Petraeus in command in Afghanistan is only the first step. Now, what to do about Ambassador Eikenberry and special envoy Holbrooke?

So, for the second time in three years, Gen. David Petraeus is bailing out a president.

Afghanistan 2010 may be an even tougher nut than Iraq 2007. Sure, Iraq looked like a mess back then, but the Americans hadn’t tried a lot of good ideas. In Afghanistan they have been trying them out and not finding them working very well. Counterinsurgency was a novel idea in Baghdad back then. It is not anything new in Kabul right now. Our biggest problem in Afghanistan is the government we are supporting there, and it isn’t clear to me what Petraeus can do about that.

Putting Petraeus in command in Afghanistan is only the first step. Now, what to do about Ambassador Eikenberry and special envoy Holbrooke?

My second big concern is what happens to Iraq now. As readers of this blog know, I am very worried about trends there. If Iraq begins to fall apart, and Petraeus is busy in Kabul, who is going to step on? At the very least, they should consider extending General Odierno’s time there.

I thought Obama’s talk was rhetorically perfect, hitting all the right notes in explaining why McChrystal had to go, while paying tribute to McChrystal’s service. The only big question he left hanging in just what happens to Central Command. Will Petraeus try to have both commands? Will someone else take over? With Pakistan, Iran and other Middle Eastern issues bubbling out there, this is a question that needs to be addressed ASAP.    

For more on this, see my piece in the NY Times: "Lose a General, Win a War"

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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