By replacing Gen. Stanley McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus, U.S. President Barack Obama has treated the most recent symptom of his Afghan malaise—an insubordinate, or at least indiscreet, general. He has not, however, addressed the underlying malady: a conflicted policy and a divided administration. In deciding last November to send more troops to Afghanistan in 2010 and then begin to take them out in 2011, Obama fashioned a compromise between his advisors and sought to balance conflicting public pressures. His solution seemed to work politically—but it also built an unavoidable tension into U.S. Afghanistan policy.
It is hard to keep everyone within an administration on the same page for one approach if most of them think (and some of them hope) that they will soon be heading in another direction entirely. For example, whereas Defense Secretary Robert Gates and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, have walked back the president's July 2011 deadline, Vice President Joe Biden was quoted in Jonathan Alter's recent book The Promise as predicting that it will occur on schedule and be substantial (White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said the same on June 20)....
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James Dobbins was the U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002. He is director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation.
This commentary originally appeared on ForeignPolicy.com on June 25, 2010.