James Forsyth

Strategic differences

Strategic differences
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When President Obama asked General Petraeus to take over the Afghan command after General McChrystal’s Rolling Stone implosion, there was much speculation that the two men would clash over the date for America to begin withdrawing troops. Obama had set down July 2011 as the starting point but Petraeus was almost certainly going to want more time than that.

In Petraeus’s Meet the Press interview on Sunday, Petraeus made clear he might argue that withdrawal cannot begin that quickly

'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.'

Obama, who is under significant political pressure to have withdrawal pretty much complete by the 2012 presidential election, will be keen for July 2011 to clearly mark the start of that process.  A clash seems almost inevitable.