Surge replacing pullout? Lawmakers rush to confirm Petraeus anyway
Even though the changing of the top guard might bring an enormous shift to Afghanistan war policies, lawmakers are rushing to confirm the new commander of the war effort chosen by President Obama to replace his “runaway general.”
US General David Petraeus will appear early next week before a key US Senate panel in a hearing on his confirmation to lead the flagging Afghan war effort, the committee announced Thursday.
Petraeus was to come before the US Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday at 9:30 am (1330 GMT) for what lawmakers were predicting would be the quickest, easiest confirmation process in a long time.
Democratic Senator Carl Levin, who chairs the panel, said Wednesday he had a “high degree of confidence” that it could refer the nomination “the same day that we have the hearing” to the full Senate for a final confirmation vote.
“The hearing for General Petraeus’s confirmation will probably be the fastest in the history of the Armed Services Committee,” agreed the panel’s top Republican, Senator John McCain.
But Petraeus could face tough questioning from lawmakers, including McCain, uneasy or outright irate about President Barack Obama’s July 2011 date for beginning the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Petraeus told the committee last week that he viewed the date as “etched in stone” but carefully described it as “a date at which a process begins that is based on conditions” in the strife-torn country.
“That is not the date when we look for the door and try to turn off the light, but rather a date at which a process begins,” he said.
And Petraeus, hailed in Washington as the hero of the Iraq “surge” strategy widely credited here as pulling that country back from the brink of civil war, refused to rule out calling for an increase in US forces in Afghanistan.
“As a commander, as a military commander who owes the commander in chief and our troops in the field my best, I owe the president my best professional military advice,” he said.
“I would never rule out coming back and asking for something more. I think that would be irresponsible,” the general said.
“Gen. David Petraeus told CNN on Thursday that he supports President Barack Obama’s July 2011 deadline to start withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan, a key point of contention between the president and many of his Republican critics in Congress,” CNN reports.
The decision to replace McChrystal with Petraeus was hotly debated by top administration officials. Defense Secretary Robert Gates backed keeping McChrystal on the job because he was vital to the war effort in Afghanistan, but he was overruled, a senior Pentagon official told CNN. The official has direct knowledge of the events but declined to be identified because of the internal administration discussions.
The country’s top U.S. military official – Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen – said Thursday he backs the president’s decision to remove McChrystal from the Afghan command post. “I’m very supportive of the president’s decision,” he said.
Military officers on the ground in Afghanistan, meanwhile, are stressing Obama’s assertion that the switch in leadership does not represent a change in policy.
“We remain absolutely focused on our tasks and the operational tempo will not miss a beat,” Lt. Gen. Sir Nick Parker said Thursday. Parker, who is British, has assumed command pending approval of Petraeus’ nomination by Congress.
General David Petraeus may have been the editor-in-chief of the militaryÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s counterinsurgency manual. But it was General Stanley McChrystal who put in place some of the bookÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s most radical precepts about limiting the use of force. Now that Petraeus has replaced McChrystal as the front-line commander in Afghanistan, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll see if he rolls back McChrystal-style counterinsurgency in favor of something more like what Petraeus practiced in Iraq.
When McChrystal took over as AfghanistanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s top general, he put limits on night raids, and curbed pursuits into populated villages. Most famously and dramatically, McChrystal severely restricted the use of air power Ã¢â‚¬â€ AmericaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s biggest technological advantage in the war.
McChrystalÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s strict guidelines triggered all kinds of grumbling from frontline troops, who felt hampered in their ability to fight the Taliban. Whether or not Petraeus eases those restrictions is one of many questions to be answered, as McChrystalÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s version of COIN gives way to the Petraeus practice.
Despite President Barack Obama’s denial that his decision to fire Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as commander in Afghanistan and replace him with Gen. David Petraeus signified any differences with McChrystal over war strategy, the decision obviously reflects a desire by Obama to find a way out of a deepening policy crisis in Afghanistan.
Although the ostensible reason was indiscreet comments by McChrystal and his aides reported in Rolling Stone, the switch from McChrystal to Petraeus was clearly the result of White House unhappiness with McChrystal’s handling of the war.
It had become evident in recent weeks that McChrystal’s strategy is not working as he had promised, and Congress and the U.S. political elite had already become very uneasy about whether the war was on the wrong track.
In calling on Petraeus, the Obama administration appears to be taking a page from the George W. Bush administration’s late 2006 decision to rescue a war in Iraq which was generally perceived in Washington as having become an embarrassing failure. But both Obama and Petraeus are acutely aware of the differences between the situation in Iraq at that moment and the situation in Afghanistan today.
(with AFP report)