Petraeus Desperately Peddles Longer Afghanistan Timeline

In case you hadn't noticed (and I'm sure you have), Gen. David Petraeus is playing the press like crazy in an effort to push public sentiment towa

In case you hadn't noticed (and I'm sure you have), Gen. David Petraeus is playing the press like crazy in an effort to push public sentiment toward deferring the July, 2011 troop withdrawal. For the past two weeks it's nearly been relentless, but this weekend he escalated the PR war.

First, the newest reports of "oil deposits" in Afghanistan -- vast, rich, yummy oil deposits. That's the first course for what he served up on Meet the Press Sunday with David Gregory's assistance, of course.

MR. GREGORY: Let me talk about U.S. troops. I asked you before, when we talked about this July deadline of next year, how stifling is the, the concept of this deadline and this Washington debate to what you're trying to do here?

GEN. PETRAEUS: I don't find it that stifling. I'm not bowed over by, you know, the knowledge that July 2011 is out there. In fact, the president has been very clear, Vice President Biden's been very clear as well, more recently, that this is a date when a process begins that is conditions based. And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and to security forces and, and in various governmental institutions, and that enables a "responsible drawdown of our forces"...

That sounds to me like the sound of a big middle finger being raised at the promise Petraeus made along with all of the other generals last December to the President -- that a timeline where the troops started coming home in July, 2011 was one they found reasonable and could adhere to. It's especially interesting that he would say Biden approves, given that Biden has been the squeaky wheel against any surge or other buildup in Afghanistan. Regardless, a promise is a promise.

I quote General Petraeus verbatim:

Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, "David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in eighteen months?"

"Sir, I'm confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame," Petraeus replied.

"Good. No problem," the president said. "If you can't do the things you say you can in eighteen months then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?"

"Yes, sir, in agreement," Petraeus said.

New York Times picked up this juicy quote from another point in the interview:

General Petraeus, who took over last month after Gen. Stanley McChrystal was fired by President Obama, said he believed he would be given the time and material necessary to prevail here. He expressed that confidence despite the fact that nearly every phase of the war is going badly — and despite the fact that the American public has turned against it.

“The president didn’t send me over here to seek a graceful exit,” the general said from his office at NATO headquarters in downtown Kabul. “My marching orders are to do all that is humanly possible to help us achieve our objectives.”

All of the shiny pretty minerals and yummy oil in Afghanistan don't make up for the lost lives there. Petraeus was either talking smack to the President -- his Commander-in-Chief -- or else he's talking smack to the press. He is, by all accounts, excellent at stroking and cultivating reporters. Just look at the job he did on David Gregory, who was more than willing to shovel handy verbs like "stifling" at the good General for his own brand of spin.

These are trial balloons. They're intended to measure the public will for extending Afghanistan. They're also intended to pressure the Afghans into getting with it and taking their country back. But if we don't register our disapproval, he might just get away with it.

The full transcript:

MR. GREGORY: Let me talk about U.S. troops. I asked you before, when we talked about this July deadline of next year, how stifling is the, the concept of this deadline and this Washington debate to what you're trying to do here?

GEN. PETRAEUS: I don't find it that stifling. I'm not bowed over by, you know, the knowledge that July 2011 is out there. In fact, the president has been very clear, Vice President Biden's been very clear as well, more recently, that this is a date when a process begins that is conditions based. And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and to security forces and, and in various governmental institutions, and that enables a "responsible drawdown of our forces"...

MR. GREGORY: Let me just stop you.

GEN. PETRAEUS: ...of the service forces to begin.

MR. GREGORY: I just want to clarify this. Did -- could you reach that point and say, "I know that the process is supposed to begin, but my assessment as the commander here is that it cannot begin now"?

GEN. PETRAEUS: Certainly, yeah. Again, the president and I sat down in the Oval Office, and he expressed very clearly that what he wants from me is my best professional military advice where I understand the mission that's been assigned, we have recommended the strategy and the resources that are required for that strategy, and as there are changes in any of that, that, obviously, I would communicate that to him, recognizing that he has some issues with which he has to deal that we don't have to worry about. But that, that's real life. And, again, that was the process that we worked through last fall, a process that I thought was very good, the outcome of which was something that we, we strongly supported. Let me point out one other item about July 2011 if I could. Because what I have often noted was that in the speech that the president made at West Point, there were two messages. One was a message of substantial additional commitment, additional 30,000 troops, again more civilians, more funding for Afghan forces, authorization of 100,000 more of them and so forth; but also a message of increased urgency. And that's what July 2011 really connotes. It is to all the participants, those in Kabul, some of us in uniform, again our civilian counterparts, that we've got to get on with this, that this has been going on for some nine years or so, that there is understandable concern, in some cases frustration, and that, therefore, we've got to really put our shoulder to the wheel and show during the course of this year that progress can be achieved. And, and, again, one manifestation of that is out there that you have this date. But, again, we've had good dialogue on this, and I think the president's been quite clear in explaining that it's a process, not an event, and that it's conditions based.

MR. GREGORY: There's a feeling that General Petraeus, with the credibility you have, will be in a position to prevail in a debate about this and say to the president, "Look," you know, "you put me in this position to do a tough job, now you've got to listen to me. I need what I need at the time that I need it."

GEN. PETRAEUS: Look, my job is, again, to provide my best professional military advice, informed, certainly, by an awareness of the context within which I provide it, but not driven by it. And that's the same way that we approached the very difficult recommendations that we made during the effort in Iraq. Over time I think those worked out and, touch wood, that over time they can work out here as well.

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