General Petraeus as a project manager

A wise friend of mine once said that if you want to advance in a big corporation, you should never turn down the change to take charge of an important project, no matter how unrealistic and budget or the timetable.

Once the project is underway, he said, you can always lobby for more money or more time. But if you turn down the opportunity, it will be given to somebody else – maybe somebody who sees things the same way as you.

I wonder whether that was what was going on when Generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal told President Obama that, with 40,000 more troops, they could so improve the situation in Afghanistan that it would be possible to start drawing down troops 18 months later.  It is possible that they sincerely believed this. It is possible that President Obama believed them.  It is even possible that they are right; I don’t think so, but I’m no expert.

But what I wonder if Petraeus and McChrystal were playing the same kind of game as the cynical corporate project manager. I wonder if they realized that it was impossible to turn around the situation in so short a time, but figured that once President Obama committed to the war, he wouldn’t back out of it.

I thought of this when I read this paragraph in Michael Hastings’ Rolling stone article.

Even those closest to McChrystal know the rising anti-war sentiment at home doesn’t begin to reflect how deeply fucked up things are in Afghanistan. “If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular,” a senior adviser to McChrystal says. Such realism, however, doesn’t prevent advocates of counterinsurgency from dreaming big. Instead of beginning to withdraw troops next year, as Obama promised, the military hopes to ramp up its counterinsurgency campaign even further. “There’s a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer if we see success here,” a senior military official in Kabul tells me.

But what if President Obama is playing his own game? What if he figures that once he gives the military all it has asked for, and gets their promise of success, they will have no excuse to back out from the withdrawal timetable? We’ll see.

Click on this for the Rolling Stone article. Go to Page 6 for the quote above.

Click on this and this for arguments as to why Obama is locked into escalating in Afghanistan.

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