In Petraeus, White House picks safe ally for Afghan strategy
ARLINGTON, Va. — The selection of Gen. David H. Petraeus, perhaps the best-known face in the U.S. military, to take command of the war in Afghanistan means he will step down from his role as commander of Central Command, a geographic area that stretches across the Middle East and Southwest Asia from Egypt to Kazakhstan, and into the subordinate role of war commander.
Petraeus replaces ousted Gen. Stanley McChrystal, whom President Barack Obama fired just days after an article revealed him making coarse and disparaging remarks about several top administration officials, including the president.
But the announcement also was a clear signal that Obama intended to continue the counterinsurgency course that was largely successful under Petraeus in Iraq.
“This is a change in personnel but it is not a change in policy,” Obama said inthe Rose Garden on Wednesday.
Petraeus is a safe choice for the White House.
He carries bipartisan support in Washington and is respected abroad. His legacy was forged through his ability to turn around the Iraq war from its darkest days with a counterinsurgency strategy that he personally wrote.
The soft-spoken general also has a reputation of being smart, diplomatic and media savvy. He frequently travels to Washington think tanks to deliver Power Point-laden updates of the wars and the state of Middle East security.
Petraeus also is well known among Middle Eastern leaders, having traveled extensively to build personal relationships and press U.S. policy goals, including securing permissions for greater presence of covert U.S. forces across the region, according to published reports.
Most importantly, perhaps, he offers the White House the least possible disruption to the war effort in Afghanistan.
“General Petraeus fully participated in our review last fall, and he both supported and helped design the strategy that we have in place,” Obama said. “In his current post at Central Command, he has worked closely with our forces in Afghanistan. He has worked closely with Congress. He has worked closely with the Afghan and Pakistan governments and with all our partners in the region. He has my full confidence, and I am urging the Senate to confirm him for this new assignment as swiftly as possible.”
Petraeus commanded the 101st Airborne Division early in the Iraq war. He later was promoted to lead the mission of training Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, but the war entered into its most violent phase. Petraeus left the job but not without criticism for the fledging mission. As head the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, Kan., the general began to promote a new way forward, co-authoring a new Army manual on counterinsurgency strategy.
But as Iraq war deaths escalated and the American public grew increasingly unsupportive of the effort, President George W. Bush’s administration conducted six months of internal, often disjointed, deliberations. Ultimately, Bush named Petraeus to relieve Gen. George Casey in 2006, coming to power the same year as Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Obama's announcement Wednesday drew praise from observers from Capitol Hill to Kandahar who hailed the choice while regretting the embarrassing circumstances surrounding the shift.
“They picked the best, the top turnaround specialist in the military,” said Max Boot, Council on Foreign Relations fellow for national security studies. “If there’s one guy you can trust to get the job done, it's Petraeus.”