The NY Times tells us about Obama's Afghan plan:
Obama Will Speed Pullout From War in Afghanistan
He's speeding it! Whatever you thought he would do, he's doing it faster! Uhh, whatev.
The key tidbit is this:
The troop reductions, which were decided after a short but fierce internal debate, will be both deeper and faster than the recommendations made by Mr. Obama’s military commanders...
Team Obama very much wants that news out there, in order to highlight that Obama is a tough, independent minded Commander-in-Chief who can stand up to his generals. (Someone please call Obama "Kennedyesque" and make their day.)
However, as Marc Ambinder at the National Journal notes, General Petraeus knew which way the wind was blowing, and knew that any reductions he proposed would be accelerated:
It is clear, because his people are saying it privately today, that Gen. David Petraeus would have preferred a slower drawdown. As he prepares for his confirmation hearing to become the next CIA director, however, it is not at all clear how reluctant his endorsement of the president’s withdrawal plan actually is. Petraeus is keenly aware of two political currents. One: In keeping with American public opinion and their view that Afghanistan had become a “wrong” war, virtually all of Obama’s closest advisers wanted a rapid withdrawal.
Two: Having been the victim of a campaign by some in the Pentagon (both military and civilian officials) to constrain his freedom to choose where to go in Afghanistan the second time he reviewed the policy (there was a very early, cursory administration review that led to the appointment of Gen. Stanley McChrsytal as commander of U.S. forces there), Obama and the National Security Council would be much wiser about the process this time, understanding now that the process drove the decision as much as the input did.
I am sure that Gen. Petraeus is concerned about the outcome and not the allocation of credit or blame. However, Obama has positioned himself to take credit for winding down the war in time for the 2012 election; if it goes sour, he will blame Bush later. Petraeus has positioned himself to be the hero if things work out, and the victim of Obama's political needs if it doesn't.
As to the strategy, Mr. Ambinder recaps the arguments made by Joe Biden in 2009 that carried the day now:
In 2009, to convince the American people that the war in Afghanistan needed more troops, Obama could not tell the whole truth, the full truth, and nothing but: Pakistan, not Afghanistan, was the root of all the troubles; the generator of new momentum for al-Qaida, a safe haven for al-Qaida, and, indeed, the main battlefront. Afghanistan was not Obama’s “right war.” It was one he inherited; one where not only was there no hope of a Jeffersonian democracy in Afghanistan but one that was actively destabilizing its neighboring country, a country with whom NATO is fighting a covert war under the guise of uneasy cooperation.
There simply was not a transnational threat coming out of Afghanistan. Afghanistan and Pakistan have a future that’s interrelated, and Pakistan needed assurance that the government in Kabul could stand on its own two feet, one that would not rely on, say, India as a crutch.
Today, Obama needed to justify withdrawing troops so he can tell more of the truth: indeed, a senior administration official, in a conference call today, said this: “The al-Qaida threat does come from Pakistan. That is where they were hunkered down.” And: “There is no transnational threat—no terrorist threat—from Afghanistan.”
The official even acknowledged what heretofore had been unmentionable: that the United States was prosecuting an aggressive campaign inside Pakistan, sometimes without their knowledge, using assets both “human and technical,” a reference to the CIA’s successful drone attacks and to U.S. special forces raids along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
If, in a few years, we are operating covertly inside big chunks of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan just as we are in Pakistan, well, so be it. As long as Al Qaeda feels safer on the Pakistan side of the border Afghanistan won't be the central battlefield.