Is the Petraeus Decision the Most Widely Praised Thing President Obama Has Ever Done?


It sort of seems that way, doesn't it? For perhaps the first and last time of his presidency, a decision by President Obama is being supported, and often hailed, almost uniformly by the political opposition, both officeholders and pundits alike. In his selection of General David Petraeus to replace General Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan, Obama took what was an awkward, seemingly no-win situation and figured out a solution that worked both politically and militarily, leaving his usual critics with almost no negative angles to exploit. Cherish this brief moment of bi-partisan agreement while it lasts.

Fareed Zakaria, CNN:

This is a masterstroke. Petraeus needs no on-the-job training, knows the theater, and is beloved by the troops. He understands COIN [counter-insurgency strategy], literally wrote the book on it, and most important — knows how to execute it. He has superb political skills and understands that a close working relationship with his civilian counterparts from the State Department, White House, and other agencies is not a bother but at the heart of the mission's success.

Fred Kaplan, Slate:

Obama's decision to replace McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus is a stroke of brilliance, an unassailable move, politically and strategically. On a political level, McChrystal has many fans inside Congress and the military, but Petraeus has orders of magnitude more. No one could accuse Obama of compromising the war effort, knowing that Petraeus is stepping in.

David Ignatius, Washington Post:

That's the boldest aspect of President Obama's decision: He has put a troubled Afghanistan campaign in the hands of a man who bent what looked like failure in Iraq toward an acceptable measure of success. Obama has doubled down on his bet, much as President Bush did with his risky surge of troops in Baghdad under Petraeus's command.

Michael Crowley
, Swampland/Time:

In taking that stand, and quickly installing Petraeus, Obama should quiet critics who have been mocking him for an allegedly timid approach to the BP oil spill in recent weeks. The change of generals was the firm action of a hands-on executive.

Chuck Todd, Twitter:

Not since POTUS named Gates and Clinton to their respective posts, has he pulled off as politically a savvy of a move as this one.

Paul Mirengoff, Powerline:

It's the smart move, I think. Obama could not easily have co-existed with McChrystal going forward, but replacing him with anyone other than Petraeus would have been seen as reducing our prospects for success. This way, Obama avenges the insult (both to him and to the chain of command) without being perceived as jeopardizing the war effort.

Max Boot
, Contentions/Commentary:

Give credit to President Obama for acting decisively by relieving General McChrystal and immediately picking the best possible replacement, not letting a dangerous vacuum develop. If there is one general who can step quickly into the top job in Afghanistan, it is Petraeus, who has been closely involved in formulating the campaign plan along with McChrystal.

Craig Crawford
, Trail Mix/CQ Politcs:

Perfect. Picking Gen. David Petraeus to run the Afghan war helps prevent the firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal from turning into another excuse to extend the war. My fear had been that we would end up with a whole new team that restarts the clock. Petraeus was a champion of McChrystal's strategy, which had reduced casualties and violence, and promises to stabilize the situation well enough to get out before it falls apart again (about the only feasible goal available to us).

Greg Sargent, Plum Line/Washington Post:

The choice of Petraeus also makes it all but impossible for critics to fault his decision to remove McChrystal. And even though Obama ruled out any change in strategic direction, the Petraeus pick all but forces a lull in criticism of the war among Congressional Democrats, which was becoming a real political problem. Dems will be reluctant to keep up the criticism without giving Petraeus a chance to succeed. This buys Obama more time — though without a change in strategy, it remains to be seen how much good this will do him in the long run.

Clive Crook, Atlantic:

"Demoting" McChrystal's old boss into the most important job in the armed forces is one of those things that seemed obvious the second it was announced, but not before. Nobody else would be capable of so seamless a transition. Petraeus, for the moment, helps stifle the suspicion that the whole strategy is coming apart.

Rich Lowry, Corner/National Review:

More importantly, his choice of Petraeus as a replacement for McChrystal is a brilliant move: He gets a heavy-weight, an unassailable expert in this kind of warfare, and someone who presumably can step in pretty seamlessly. He also picked someone who has expressed (very diplomatic) misgivings about the July 2011 deadline and who will have the clout and credibility to tell the president that he can't afford to go down in troops when July comes, should circumstances warrant.

Spencer Ackerman
, Washington Independent:

Politically, it’s a masterstroke. Not only was his name never mentioned as a replacement for McChrystal, but he’s a secular saint in Washington.

Andrew Sullivan, Atlantic:

With Petraeus now running the Afghan "surge", we are back to square one: an impossible and contradictory war that requires permanent occupation to work and twelve months to succeed.

Thomas Ricks, Best Defense/Foreign Policy:

Our biggest problem in Afghanistan is the government we are supporting there, and it isn't clear to me what Petraeus can do about that.

Steve Benen, Political Animal/Washington Monthly:

At a minimum, it signals something of a doubling down — by tapping Petraeus, it's clear Obama isn't changing course in Afghanistan.

Adam Serwer, TAPPED/American Prospect:

Liberals were hoping that McChrystal's departure would offer an opportunity for the administration to rethink a strategy that some suspect was adopted largely due to political pressure to continue the mission....The appointment of Gen. Petraeus is likely to squelch any such discussion before it gets started. The near superhero status Petraeus enjoys isn't simply due to his intelligence or capability as a leader — it's also the result of media mythmaking about the Iraq War.

Ed Morrissey, Hot Air:

Obama appears to have split the baby rather adeptly here, softening the blow of losing McChrystal by arguably trading up for the legendary Petraeus. That should dampen criticism over cashiering McChrystal, especially among Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Victor Davis Hansen, Corner/National Review:

It is one of ironies of our present warped climate that Petraeus will face far less criticism from the media and politicians than during 2007-8 (there will be no more “General Betray Us” ads or “suspension of disbelief” ridicule), because his success this time will reflect well on Obama rather than George Bush. It is a further irony that Obama is surging with Petraeus despite not long ago declaring that such a strategy and such a commander were failures in Iraq.