As to be expected, General Stanley McChrystal was sacked yesterday as the commanding general in Afghanistan.  In his place, President Obama named Centcom Commander General David Petraeus to replace McChrystal.

Petraeus is the COIN (counter insurgency) guru who was the mastermind behind the Baghdad Security Plan, better known as the Surge, in Iraq which is credited with turning the tide in that war.  It seemed like a no-brainer for Obama to name Petraeus as a replacement for the insubordinate McChrystal.

However, Afghanistan is NOT Iraq:  Iraq had a modern infrastructure and oil-based economy, modern sensibilities about political reality, had better defined tribal boundaries, did not have a truly popular insurgency (most of the significant insurgent activity was perpetrated by outsiders under the al Qaeda in Iraq, or AQI, banner), and had a loyal and stregthening military force not corrupted like the local police.

Afghanistan has nothing like that:  it’s an earthquake away from the stone age, has never truly been a united country (whose most important crop is opium), and most importantly, the Taliban is very popular in many areas and unlike AQI, knew how to provide basic social services.  It’s truly much more like the Viet Cong with different colored pajamas than anything we saw in Iraq on a large scale.

I have two concerns — one real, one full of conjecture:  first, I’m concerned that while Petraeus is awesome, this may not end well through no fault of his own tainting his earlier accomplishments; secondly, if Afghanistan goes badly and Congress calls Petraeus up to lecture him creating tons of brutal sound bites, Obama may have just eliminated a potential competitor for 2012.  Essentially, Obama may be making room for one more to throw under bus to propel his popularity, while knocking down a man like Petraeus reasserts a thug-like sentiment that you never want to be more popular than the boss.

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