The Post asked foreign policy experts what, if any, effects last week's change in command would have. Below, responses from Danielle Pletka, Kurt Volker, Gilles Dorronsoro, Erin M. Simpson, Zalmay Khalilzad, Tod Lindberg and Anthony H. Cordesman.
Vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute
Featured in the many sorry tales of American adventures in Afghanistan there is a regular protagonist: the swashbuckler. He is the military special forces guy or the CIA spy. He is the man who believes that he has the keys to Kandahar, that his cleverly distributed $20 million, his special political relationships and his understanding of Pakistani interests will enable the United States to slide gracefully away. In too many ways, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, special forces vet, was another in a long series of such men in Afghanistan.
U.S. strategy will doubtless change in the coming months -- because it was headed for failure. Too many in command -- and too many advising them -- believed that counterinsurgency strategy would not require clearing terrorists and establishing security first and foremost. Instead, they were obsessed with the intricacies of the Karzai family and details about corruption. Finally, even as professional and competent a general as David Petraeus cannot succeed if the president continues to tolerate the Shakespearean drama that is Washington Afghan policy. Special envoy Richard Holbrooke connives to undercut the military command; Ambassador Karl Eikenberry won't talk to International Security and Assistance Force leaders and connives to discredit his opponents at the Pentagon. Both should go because they have put politics above the mission and ego above all. Without them, and with a new command and a president committed to a serious, drama-free policy, we can begin down the road to victory in Afghanistan.
Ambassador to NATO from 2008 to 2009; managing director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; senior adviser at the Atlantic Council and McLarty Associates
Two problems arose with the McChrystal flame-out: First is the challenge to presidential leadership, which President Obama dealt with swiftly and effectively by firing Stanley McChrystal and replacing him with David Petraeus. The second -- and bigger -- problem is that many inside and outside the military believe what McChrystal and his aides said. They feel our commitment lacks teeth: that they are not given the resources, time, rules of engagement and political/civilian backing necessary to succeed. The July 2011 pullout date -- even if it is explained away in clarifying comments -- remains an albatross on the whole operation. Enemies, allies and, apparently, our own military doubt our commitment to winning. The lack of trust between and among military and civilian implementers reveals that we lack the unity of effort needed for success. This is a huge rift in the execution of a vital U.S. strategy.
Putting Petraeus in place can help tighten up the military side of the equation, including its cooperation with the civilians. But regaining the confidence of the military will require changes on the civilian side as well. Most important, we must end the mismatch between strategy and timeline. The president and every senior American official below him must convey an unshakable resolve to win. No qualifiers, no timelines: just determination.
Visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
The selection of Gen. David Petraeus and departure of Gen. Stanley McChrystal creates an opening to fix a failing strategy.
On the ground, the situation looks unwinnable, and the United States will not be able to reverse the trajectory of the war in the next year. America and its partners decided -- sensibly -- not to go through with a major military offensive in Kandahar this summer. Officials in the area are highly corrupt, there is little trust in government or judiciary, and there is virtually no chance for success without a reliable local partner.
With security and political stability across Afghanistan continuing to deteriorate, U.S. strategy needs to be rethought. The coalition faces the risk of an endless engagement with an unsustainable cost and intolerable loss of life that cannot be won militarily.
President Hamid Karzai is in decline and the Taliban is gaining strength, so Washington's best option is to begin negotiations with the Taliban. Patraeus should begin by scaling back military offensives and reducing coalition casualties. This winter the coalition should declare a cease-fire and start negotiating with the Taliban.
Without a military solution, negotiating with the Taliban is the only option. A negotiated agreement can pave the way for a unity government and hopefully stabilize the country. The arrival of Patraeus offers a window to analyze the grim realities and start implementing the most effective way forward.
ERIN M. SIMPSON
Member of the Afghan International Security Assistance Force's Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team; the views expressed are her own
Six months after President Obama began sending more troops to Afghanistan, we find ourselves confronted with a number of confounding challenges: a fractured and fragile relationship with President Hamid Karzai, a porous border with Pakistan, corrupt "powerbrokers" and poor performance of the Afghan police. Many of these problems are beyond the coalition's immediate control, but the disunity between our civilian and military leaders on the ground is not. Now we have our last, best opportunity to fix it.
The many years of research and experience in counterinsurgency campaigns have yielded a handful of clear "best practices": the importance of intelligence reform and intel-driven operations, the need to recruit local security forces and militias, denial of sanctuaries. But none of that matters without unity of effort, the kind of shared zeal that Petraeus previously enjoyed with Ambassador Ryan Crocker in Iraq. That kind of genuinely integrated command begins at the top -- in Washington and Kabul. And Obama's Rose Garden speech provides a powerful message to those in both capitals who would engage in the kind internecine backbiting publicly revealed last week. That dysfunction was a self-inflicted wound.
Petraeus may not change the campaign plan, but he'll certainly change the tenor in Kabul. If we are to address any of the serious obstacles to success in Afghanistan, we must start there.
U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration; counselor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; president of Khalilzad Associates
Gen. David Petraeus will clearly have a very difficult mission in Afghanistan. Success will require progress on four major fronts:
First, he will need to get our own house in order. An effective counterinsurgency strategy requires civil-military cooperation, coordination and integration. Petraeus should demand this and ought to have the lead in bringing it about. Given all that is at stake he must establish a one-mission, one-team spirit among various instruments of U.S. power. Those who do not cooperate should be replaced, and quickly.
Second, he needs to get the Afghans to do better. This means good working relations with President Hamid Karzai and his administration. As Petraeus knows, he will have to be publicly respectful and privately firm with the Afghan leader. The quantity and quality of Afghan security forces will need to be improved. As Petraeus establishes good relations with the government, he will also need to gain the cooperation of the Afghan tribes and other forces who are alienated from the current power structure.
Third, he needs to develop a stratgey to get the Pakistanis to end the sanctuary for those who are fighting against our forces and against the Afghans -- while the door for reconciliation is kept open.
Fourth, he must work to reverse the negative effect of July 2011 having been announced as the beginning of withdrawal. Setting this date has had the effect of increasing corruption, as some segments of Afghan society believe that they must grab what they can while U.S. money is available. It has caused others, including some Pakistani officers, to hedge against a U.S. withdrawal. Disagreement on this issue between those who believe that withdrawal should be based on conditions and those who insist on significant withdrawal next July must be resolved in favor of the former.
Research fellow at the Hoover Institution and editor of Policy Review
President Obama may have needed to remove McChrystal, but he didn't need to replace him with Petraeus. He had other good options. By tapping Petraeus, probably the most talented and respected four-star in a couple generations of military leadership, Obama has re-upped on his commitment to success in Afghanistan.
When the U.S. entered Iraq in 2003 and toppled the Saddam regime within weeks, it was an illustration of America's immense military power. When an insurgency took hold in the following years and nearly dissolved Iraq in civil war and genocide, it was an illustration of the limits of conventional military power. Some were humbled, including within military ranks, by the inability to halt the slide toward chaos. Those urging us to get out of Iraq were mainly of the view that we ought to be humble, now and hereafter, in our sense of what military power can achieve.
But a funny thing happened on Petraeus's way to Afghanistan: In addition to its massive conventional war-fighting capability, the U.S. military now also has a pretty good understanding of how to run a counterinsurgency campaign. The person most responsible for this development is Petraeus.
Afghanistan is not Iraq. We have all come to appreciate the weakness of the Karzai government. Our drone war in Pakistan is uniquely complicating. Questions have rightly been raised about the transferability of the Iraq counterinsurgency strategy to Afghanistan. We have a poorly defined sense of what success can look like, how much is possible.
That's not the point. The general who did most to contribute to the ability of the military to innovate its way out of grave trouble in Iraq will now be addressing his talents to Afghanistan. Something -- the withdrawal timetable? -- may have to give. The problem may yet stump him. But there's no one better suited to the task of civil-military innovation that lies before us in Afghanistan than Petraeus.
ANTHONY H. CORDESMAN
Burke chair in strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies
It is far too easy to concentrate on personalities and the tragedy that has ended the career of one of the nation's most outstanding officers. President Obama has, however, made the right decisions. He has put the one man in charge with the depth and on-the-scene experience to take over operations with minimum risk and who can be an immediate symbol of America's commitment to stay in -- and win -- the war. He has called for the right level of unity from the rest of his team, and a broad purge would do nothing but create new tensions while disrupting real, ongoing progress.
We have at least two more years before we can be sure whether the current strategy will work. There are, however, many important areas of progress since the summer of 2009. The war has shifted to focus on the security of the Afghan people and on integrated civil-military operations. It is now focused on Afghan needs and expectations, not those of the United States or Europe. Major improvements are taking place in the size and quality of Afghan forces. Intelligence and assessment of the war is far better, focuses on powerbrokers and the quality of governance (and not just the enemy), and can support civil-military operations. Real efforts are being made to fight the corruption.
The end result is still a war with major risks and uncertainties. Petraeus will have to make many detailed changes in strategy and in the way coalition forces and the Afghans fight -- just as Gen. Stanley McChrystal did from month to month. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and envoy Richard Holbrooke face critical challenges in dealing with the civil side of the Afghan government and creating a truly integrated civil-military effort. This is, however, all the more reason to put the McChrystal episode behind us. It is time to focus on winning the war.