COIN ain’t going anywhere…

Interesting news with the selection of General Petraeus to replace the newly unemployed General McChrystal. Quick thoughts:

COIN strategy isn’t going anywhere. You really couldn’t send a stronger message by putting the guy who wrote the book in charge of the war. Obama had a chance to put in a different commander and could have used the whole event to begin to pivot into a different strategy. Instead, he’s taking the Central Command commander and essentially moving him down a notch to focus on events in Afghanistan. I’m not sure if they’re going to expect Petraeus to continue his role as CENTCOM commander or how he’ll fit into the overall command structure.

Don’t hold your breath for a July 2011 withdrawal of troops. Given that Petraeus was just talking about the need to evaluate the situation in July 2011 and walking back any definitive commitment to troop withdrawals I expect this question to remain open. As the man said:

Petraeus, who described the planned date as “the beginning of a process,” said it “is not a date where we race for the exits. It is the date where we, having done an assessment, begin a transition.”

At this point I might even say that an extended operation is more likely now. People who don’t like the July ’11 date can point to this incident as interfering with the war and needing more time now that we have a new commander. Petraeus, who now will acquire near-mythic status as the white knight who ‘saved’ Iraq and was called in to do the same in Afghanistan (Gaius Marius, anyone?) is going to be hard to defy if he says we need more troops or time. Obama may have made a deal with the devil here. A quick shot in the arm of confidence by naming Petraeus at the cost of the ability to override the Afghan commander later.

Politically this probably won’t be a bad move. Does anyone believe Republicans will run against a war in 2012? And who else will the anti-war left have to turn to? It remains to be seen if its a bad move militarily.

Tactical restrictions will remain in place. For those grumbling about the need for troops to accept more tactical risk in order to secure long term gains this isn’t going to be good news. There’s no reason to believe that Petraeus will be more permissive of the use of lethal force. Hopefully, he’ll do a better job at translating his intent down to lower levels.

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