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Tag: David Petraeus


A misstep for a man, a giant blunder for a CIA chief

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

Powerful man, beguiling woman: The combination has been sabotaging national interests since the days of Troy. Should David Petraeus’ affair with groupie-biographer Paula Broadwell have forced his resignation? Sadly, yes.

It’s not a matter of Puritanism, which – take note, sophisticates – hardly saturates American culture these days. Although betrayal of marriage vows and a wife of 37 years reflects poorly on Petraeus as a husband, it’s the least of the reasons this distinguished soldier had to step down as the nation’s chief intelligence officer.

Far more important is the fundamental lack of judgment and caution Petraeus displayed in getting himself entangled with Broadwell.

As a West Point graduate, Reserve lieutenant colonel and all-around American superwoman, she hardly seems a treacherous Bond girl. Still, Petraeus let his guard down, an inexcusable lapse in a CIA chief.

He potentially exposed himself to blackmail, and he opened a clandestine door into his affairs that might have been exploited by someone close to Broadwell. An intelligence official bent on carrying on outside his marriage should at least keep a few alert colleagues in the loop.

Indulging in loose-lipped communications on a common email account was a foolish performance all by itself.

A president must have absolute confidence in his CIA director’s personal integrity and judgment. Petraeus’ actions forfeited that trust.

This scandal keeps on getting spookier. The timing – just after the presidential election – is more than weird. There’s also the apparently political leakage of the dirt through an FBI back channel: An agent reportedly tipped off House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., on Oct. 27. The call was arranged by Washington’s Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn.

Now the seamy business has spilled onto the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John R. Allen. He’s been ensnared in an investigation of his connection with a Florida woman who in turn is connected with Petraeus and the ubiquitous Broadwell.
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Whose predictions will shape Afghanistan’s future?

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

No one knows who’s winning or losing in Afghanistan. But everybody’s playing the expectations game.

In the last few days, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have been out to lower America’s expectations of the war. Both invoked “Jeffersonian democracy” – as in what Afghanistan is never going to become.

Obama’s low-expectations goal: an Afghanistan that won’t harbor international terrorists. He didn’t say it, but denying terrorists a base for toppling the Pakistani government is crucial; a nuclear arsenal in the hands of radical Islamists is a terrifying prospect.

Defining success as an absence of terrorism leaves everything else in play, including democracy, human rights and the freedom of Afghanistan’s women. Obama’s unspoken message: You may be appalled at how Afghanistan turns out, even if we “succeed.”

Another set of expectations revolves around the calendar, specifically the month of July 2011. That’s when Obama has announced he will begin pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. But “begin” is a slippery word.
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Bipartisan defeatism

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, April 2007, about Iraq:

Now I believe, myself, that the secretary of state, the secretary of defense and you have to make your own decision as to what the president knows: that this war is lost, that the surge is not accomplishing anything.

Republican chairman Michael Steele, last week, about Barack Obama and Afghanistan:

If he’s such a student of history, has he not understood that, you know, that’s the one thing you don’t do is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? All right? Because everyone who’s tried, over

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Afghanistan: Vague words or vague thinking?

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

When fighting a war, ambiguity is often useful; ambivalence, never.

The disputes that led to the firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal last week exposed a little too much ambivalence about Afghanistan in the Obama administration. Among the revelations in the Rolling Stone article that brought down McChrystal was his cavalier – even contemptuous – attitude toward Joe Biden, AKA “Who’s that?”

Biden apparently doesn’t think much of the official strategy in Afghanistan. He opposed the build-up of troops Barack Obama has approved and had instead argued for a much smaller anti-insurgent strategy with a short half-life.
Obama has linked an American withdrawal from Afghanistan to July of 2011. No one – maybe not the president himself – knows the precise nature of that link.

In a new book, “The Promise” journalist Jonathan Alter quoted Biden as saying, “In July of 2011, you’re going to see a whole lot of people moving out, bet on it.” But Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently called that date “a starting point,” and that any withdrawal would depend on what’s actually happening on the ground.

Obama may be on the same page. On Sunday, he said the United States won’t necessarily “suddenly turn off the lights and let the door close behind us” on that magic date.

But the president isn’t saying anything concrete about how fast and under what conditions the troops would be pulled out – all we really know is that he’s being far more vague and guarded than the loose-lipped Biden.
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A gifted commander, McChrystal still had to go

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Relieving a capable commander in the middle of a war is a high-risk move. In the case of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, it’s a risk Barack Obama had to take.

Until this week, McChrystal looked like America’s best bet to hold the Taliban at bay and buy Afghanistan’s weak government enough time to secure the country.

American troops have been complaining about the civilian-friendly rules of engagement he has imposed, but McChrystal understands a fundamental truth: The Taliban cannot be defeated unless the Afghan population turns against them. Protecting civilians – from the Taliban, but also from American bombs and bullets – is the only way this can happen.

McChrystal is the architect of NATO’s strategy in Afghanistan, which has much in common with the strategy Gen. David Petraeus successfully used to turn around the war in Iraq.

Afghanistan and Iraq are very different countries, and there’s not the least guarantee that McChrystal’s plan can replicate Petraeus’ success in Iraq. But despite the recent spike in U.S. casualties, pessimism is also premature.
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