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Anxiety Reigns in Washington Over Afghanistan (Petraeus Passes Out During Senate Hearing)

David Dayen

WASHINGTON - There’s a palpable feeling this week that the bill has come due on
Afghanistan. In Jonathan Alter’s book “The Promise,” he describes
a meeting
between Obama and the military leadership, where he
buttonholes them into a very specific time frame for progress.

Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked
Petraeus, “David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can
do this in 18 months?”

Petraeus Passes Out Briefly at Hearing

by Rachel Weiner

Gen. David Petraeus briefly

collapsed mid-sentence at a Senate Armed Services hearing on

Petraeus had finished answering a question by
Sen. John McCain.
McCain was responding when the senator stopped talking suddenly and
aides began crowding around Petraeus.

The hearing was suspended and Petraeus was helped out of the room.
Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the committee, said Petraeus appears to be
doing very well. According to the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder, the general did not eat
or drink before the hearing

“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 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay,


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“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.

Petraeus, through the New
York Times
, and more particularly the hawkish allies inside the
Administration, are already backpedaling from this only 6 months into
the engagement.

Six months after President Obama decided
to send more forces to Afghanistan, the halting progress in the war has
crystallized longstanding tensions within the government over the
viability of his plan to turn around the country and begin pulling out
by July 2011.

Within the administration, the troubles in clearing out the Taliban
from a second-tier region and the elusive loyalties of the Afghan
president have prompted anxious discussions about whether the policy can
work on the timetable the president has set. Even before the recent
setbacks, the military was highly skeptical of setting a date to start
withdrawing, but Mr. Obama insisted on it as a way to bring to
conclusion a war now in its ninth year.

For now, the White House has decided to wait until a review, already
scheduled for December, to assess whether the target date can still
work. But officials are emphasizing that the July 2011 withdrawal start
will be based on conditions in the country, and that the president has
yet to decide how quickly troops will be pulled out.

There’s no question that the July 2011 date was pre-conditioned;
Obama made no bones about that. But he did demand at least some
progress before committing to extend that timeline. And there really
hasn’t been any. Marja, a tiny collection of farming villages, remains a
mess. The Kandahar operation hasn’t gotten off the ground. The
Taliban remains generally strong, and there’s less a partner in Hamid
Karzai now than there was six months ago. The “Minerals Miracle” report
from yesterday clearly sought to provide a rationale for staying, but
it means almost nothing given the security and infrastructure

Washington Post
gets at the upset in official circles that their
splendid little war, now nine years in the making, isn’t going quite as
planned. Both the House and Senate will hold hearings today and
tomorrow with Gen. Petraeus and Michele Flournoy, the under secretary of
defense for policy (thought to be in line as the next Secretary of

I don’t expect a strategic reset immediately, but there is clearly
pressure on the Administration inside the Beltway to produce results.
If a mass movement started to oppose the war vocally from the outside,
it would be hard to sustain.

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