As Generals Change, Afghan Debate Narrows to 2 Powerful Voices

Adm. Michael Mullen, Vice President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama, Gen. David Petraeus, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

From Mark Landler and Helene Cooper, the New York Times:  President [Barack] Obama insisted he was switching military leaders, not strategies, when he fired General McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, on Wednesday. But administration insiders acknowledge that there have been preliminary discussions about whether to rethink the approach to a war that is clearly bogging down. …

[T]he setbacks on the battlefield and persistent questions about the reliability of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, have strengthened [Vice President Joe] Biden’s hand, some officials said. During the policy debate last fall, he argued for a narrower counterterrorism strategy with many fewer troops and a clear endgame for the United States. In many ways, setting the July 2011 date was a concession to Mr. Biden.

“There aren’t camps; there is a policy,” said Antony Blinken, the vice president’s top national security adviser. “It’s a crystal clear policy set by the president that everyone is following. He said at the West Point speech that after 18 months troops will begin to come home. …”

“If there continue to be problems,” a senior official said, “the debate will intensify between those who say we have to stick with it and those who say we lost the moment to go into Kandahar, and we have to go to Plan B. …”

“We’ll know in December,” an official said. “By the time we get to July 2011, all the presurge forces will have been there for two years. That’s a perfectly appropriate amount of time to begin transferring troops out.”

From Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Fox News interview:  [W]hat I’m saying is people are losing context. This policy, this strategy, has been in place and working for only about four or five months. We have yet to put yet a third of the surge forces into Afghanistan. The president has said we’ll wait until December to evaluate how we’re doing.

So I think there’s a rush to judgment, frankly, that loses sight of the fact we are still in the middle of getting all of the right components into place and giving us a little time to have this — have this work.  (photo: AP)

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