The Associated Press reports that Petraeus will replace McChrystal in the lead up to the summer campaign. There’s no reason to question this move toward the adult in the room, and obviously Petraeus is a choice the media will love — it’s a polar opposite from McChrystal’s team in terms of adeptness at controlling and managing the media narrative — but there are a few points here worth noting.
First, it’s going to be very tough to fill Petraeus’ role at CENTCOM. He can’t stay on in the job and that will have to be a quick transition. I had suggested David Rodriguez for Afghanistan in part for this reason, but now Rodriguez becomes an even more critical player on the ground. Possible CENTCOM choices could be the current deputy, LTG John Allen, or perhaps Peter Chiarelli. Either way, a speedy handoff is needed.
Second, and more importantly, Petraeus has a personality which does not allow him to refuse this kind of call. Yet there’s something that we ought to be cognizant of here with the man: he clearly has every intention of sticking with the job til the end, but if he did indeed have a health problem preventing the president from sending him in-theater, I doubt he’d admit it. Petraeus’s recent hearing collapse was, if anything, an underreported incident; he was diagnosed with early-stage prostate cancer last year, and it’s possible that some aspect of his medication or treatment led to this. The opponents of the Afghan strategy on the right and the left had fun turning this into a metaphor, but it could be a much more serious issue. Whatever it was, don’t expect Petraeus to be open about it.
This is a stunning period of transition, brought on by a surprising series of events.
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