The Petraeus Effect

| Wed Jun. 23, 2010 3:44 PM EDT

I asked earlier today whether the McChrystal controversy might ignite a serious debate or even reappraisal of the merits of Obama's Afghanistan strategy. With McChrystal now gone and Petraeus stepping into the breach, some have suggested that the public will be even less likely to question and scrutinize the war than before, given the near-mythical aura surrounding Petraeus and his purported accomplishments. After all, McChrystal may eat only one meal a day and sleep four hours a night, but Petraeus--well, he's the "King David" who did 50 push-ups only days after getting shot in the chest.

Here's Adam Serwer's take:

The appointment of General Petraeus is likely to squelch any such discussion before it gets started. The near superhero status Petraeus enjoys isn't simply due to his intelligence or capability as a leader -- its also the result of media mythmaking about the Iraq War. Despite the ease with which the country has come to adopt the narrative that the 2007 troop escalation and the shift to a counterinsurgency strategy singlehandedly turned the Iraq War around, it remains untrue. As Michael Cohen helpfully continues to remind us, there were a number of factors involved, including ethnic cleansing in Baghdad, the Sunni tribes turning on al-Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq and the Sadr ceasefire.

My colleague David Corn has a similar write-up, offering multiple takedowns of the "surge hype."

One additional note: The Petraeus pick re-affirms and arguably intensifies Obama's commitment to pursuing the counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. But there's at least one new message that Obama seems to be sending, regarding the deadline he's set for US troop withdrawal. Spencer explains:

Today Obama clarified what July 2011 means — somewhat. It means what Gen. Petraeus, his new commander, told the Senate he supports: not a “race for the exits,” but a “conditions-based,” open-ended transition. If that still sounds unclear, it’s because the policy itself is unclear. But by placing Petraeus at the helm, it means that 2012 will probably look more like right now, in terms of troop levels and U.S. troops fighting, than anything Biden prefers. 

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