Obama, as suspected, disregarded the Afghan troop drawdown recommendation of Gen. Petraeus
Testifying before a Senate committee today, the commander of allied forces in Afghanistan confirmed under oath what many had suspected:
In his speech Wednesday evening, President Obama disregarded the preferred troop drawdown choice of his top general, David Petraeus, now headed to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Obama clearly appeared to be paying attention to the anti-war left wing of his party and to war-weariness reflected in polls after a 10-year conflict that began when he was a mere state senator.
Obama was in Manhattan again tonight for a series of Democratic fundraisers, including one with TV hostess Whoopi Goldberg, with the June 30 first-quarter reporting deadline approaching.
The widely-admired four-star general was the architect of the successful Iraq troop surge that Obama also opposed as a U.S. senator but that has now enabled him to drastically reduce U.S. forces there.
The 58-year-old Petraeus couched his committee answers in the standard Washington etiquette acknowledging civilian control of an obedient military.
However, his forthright replies rapidly reverberated across the Capitol, where so many in the political business are so ready to believe that the accelerated troop withdrawals were ordered by the Democrat more to enhance his troubled reelection plans, than because they would enhance the cause of crushing terrorist forces in Afghanistan.
Under questioning, Gen. Petraeus admitted today, "The ultimate [drawdown] decision was a more aggressive formulation, if you will, in terms of the timeline than what we had recommended."
He then quickly added, "The fact is, there has never been a military commander in history who has had all the forces that he would like to have, for all the time, with all the money, all the authorities, and nowadays all the bandwidth as well.”
"Obviously, he preferred options that gave more time," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates confirmed to Agence France Press. Gates too is leaving the Defense Department after years of service under two presidents and reportedly disagreeing with Obama over starting a third war by attacking Libya.
Michigan's Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat who's been pressuring Obama for....
Petraeus replied: "I'm not a quitter. I don't think it's the place for a commander to consider that kind of step unless you are in a very dire situation." Later, he added:
Each person above me — all the way up to and including the president — has a broader purview and has broader considerations that are brought to bear. The commander in chief has decided and it is then the responsibility, needless to say, of those in uniform to salute smartly and do everything humanly possible to execute it.
Obama, who as a candidate argued that Afghanistan was the right war to confront terrorism, not Iraq, has ordered two troop surges there -- in March and December of 2009. The latter, coming after a controversial protracted four-month review, involved 30,000 additional forces, raising the U.S. commitment there to just under 100,000. That was reported to be somewhat smaller than commanders had sought in order to effectively clear the entire country.
With the available assets, Petraeus forged an improved working relationship between special forces and the CIA and focused on southern Afghanistan. Allies have since regained control of much of that territory.
The plan was to allow newly-trained Afghan security forces to come in behind the allies in the south. And next fighting season the troops would focus on subduing eastern Afghanistan closer to Pakistan.
Those plans, however, now seem at least jeopardized by the removal of one-third of U.S. troops by September 2012, just two months before the presidential election.
Petraeus is certain to be overwhelmingly confirmed as CIA director. However, his candid answers today, confirming latent suspicions, will endure in the political debate, especially if Taliban and Al Qaeda forces bide their time awaiting the announced pullout and either hold off allied progress or even reverse it.
-- Andrew Malcolm
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Photo: Yuri Gripas / Reuters (Petraeus testifies, June 23); Goran Tomasevic / Reuters (U.S. Sgt. William Bee ducks just in time during an Afghan firefight).