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Barack Obama says “Rock me, Petraeus”

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WASHINGTON – JUNE 23: U.S. President Barack Obama (L) speaks as U.S. General David Petraeus looks on in the Rose Garden at the White House on June 23, 2010 in Washington, DC.

June 23, 2010

(KATAKAMI / THEGLOBEANDMAIL.COM)  President Barack Obama is right to have replaced one advocate of the counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, with another, General David Petraeus.

President Barack Obama is right to have replaced one advocate of the counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, with another, General David Petraeus – the very commander who in Iraq led such a strategy to considerable success.

Gen. McChrystal was brought down by a profile in Rolling Stone magazine, which, paradoxically, was on the whole favourable to him. He and his staff were too lively and articulate for their own good, too free with quotable quotes. His command was compromised by his frankness about his disagreements with civilian officials of the United States, including Karl Eikenberry, a retired general who is the ambassador to Afghanistan; Richard Holbrooke, the special representative in Afghanistan and Pakistan; and Joe Biden, the Vice-President.

The disclosure of divided counsels, if tolerated much longer, could have seriously harmed the NATO mission in Afghanistan, encouraging the Taliban and hostile warlords. Gen. McChrystal must have known better; he should have kept his arguments inside the military and the administration.

Counterinsurgency is not a rapid solution, but one that requires patience and time – the motto attributed by Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace to Mikhail Kutuzov, the general who defeated Napoleon in Russia. The Rolling Stone article quotes Gen. McChrystal’s chief of operations, Major-General Bill Mayville, as saying of his commander’s hoped-for success, “It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win.”

Such words are not inspiring, but Western countries should by now have learned not to accept splendid triumphs in Afghanistan. Gen. Petraeus, a more staid figure than Gen. McChrystal, may yet prove more enduring and more successful. Mr. Obama was right to say on Wednesday, “This is a change of personnel but it is not a change in policy.”

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