Finding the Exit in Afghanistan

Finding the Exit in Afghanistan

In the two weeks since Gen. David Petraeus was nominated to be the new commander for U.S. and NATO operations in Afghanistan, continuity has been the dominant theme in describing what his replacement of ousted Gen. Stanley McChrystal represents. After all, Petraeus literally wrote the book on U.S. counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine, which McChrystal tried to apply in Afghanistan over the past year. It only seems natural to expect that Petraeus will maintain the same approach.

But continuity is the worst possible option for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, because it would mean maintaining a strategy that appears increasingly unlikely to succeed. Instead, President Barack Obama should use the change in command to modify his goal, from "winning" the war in Afghanistan to laying the political and military groundwork for withdrawal.

Failure to clearly identify which of these two paths would define the U.S. mission has been perhaps the Obama administration's greatest strategic failing in Afghanistan.

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