With his four stars and battle ribbons speaking for themselves and his reputation soaring, Gen. David Petraeus Tuesday told the Senate Armed Service Committee just what President Obama wanted its members to hear: (1) fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan remains essential to U.S. security; (2) the president's counterinsurgency strategy and U.S. troop reductions projected to begin on July 2011 were fine; and (3) this general and this president are in harmony unlike the departing U.S./NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
But make no mistake, the thrust of the general's remarks in these confirmation hearings was to further lock Mr. Obama into the Afghan war and to protect his right flank against Republicans and conservatives who have begun charging that the president is about to cut and run from the war. He offered very little to Democrats and liberals who have stepped up their demands for an exit strategy.
The only point he really gave to Democrats critical of policy was in his pessimistic assessment of the present security situation in Afghanistan. He called it “tenuous,” and warned that fighting and casualties would increase as American troops increasingly took the war to Taliban strongholds. Unlike these Democrats, however, he held the door open to better days and to improvements in the performance of America's Afghan allies. He calibrated all of this well to maintain credibility all around.