When President Obama named Gen. David Petraeus to replace ousted Gen. Stanley McChyrstal as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, he pledged that it was "a change in personnel, not in policy." But that doesn't mean there won't be any tweaks in how the war is managed or fought. (Watch a Fox discussion about Petraeus' appointment.) Here are five theories on how Petraeus' leadership could affect the war:
1. The war will get bloodier
McChrystal believed in "severely" limiting the use of air strikes to reduce Afghan civilian casualties, says Noah Shachtman in Wired. By contrast, during the Petraeus-led "surge" in Iraq, let's just say "the trend line went in the opposite direction." Many frontline troops hope he follows the same strategy and ramps up the bombing in Afghanistan.
2. The withdrawal "deadline" will become less clear cut
Look for Petraeus to "re-calibrate and fine tune" the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, says Peter Goodspeed in Canada's National Post, and the first thing he'll work to change is "all the talk of a possible withdrawal of U.S. troops by next summer." Already, Petraeus has spoken about the July 2011 pullout date as merely the beginning of a transition period — not a time to being "[racing] for the exits."
3. The Taliban will be re-energized
Taliban leaders are "mesmerized" by the McChrystal saga, say Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai in Newsweek, and giddy at "the apparent insubordination (and the backbiting) in the U.S. ranks." They see the soldier-to-soldier joking about Obama, and also Petraeus' fainting spell, "as the latest sign of America’s impending defeat in Afghanistan." Meanwhile, the Taliban is allegedly more united and determined than ever.
4. U.S. strategy will become more creative
"If the Taliban sold stock, its price would surely have fallen" after Obama's leadership shift, says David Ignatius in The Washington Post. Petraeus' "willingness to experiment" is a crucial "strategic advantage" over McChrystal, whose Afghanistan strategy is, "frankly, spinning its wheels." We'll need Petraeus' "creativity," media-age savvy, and willingness to "think outside the box" to defeat, or at least forge détente with, the Taliban.
5. Pakistan will play a more productive role
The Afghanistan strategy itself may not change much, actually, says Max Fisher in The Atlantic, but "there is one very important tool at Petraeus' disposal that McChrystal lacked: His relationship with the political and military leaders of Pakistan." With Petraeus in charge, Pakistan's spy agency might be more willing to pass on vital intelligence and keep the Taliban out of the porous border region. Having an ally like that could make all the difference.
SEE MORE OF THE WEEK'S COVERAGE OF THE AFGHANISTAN WAR:
• McChrystal out, Petraeus in: First reactions
• Gen. McChrystal vs. Obama: A timeline
• McChrystal: A short history of other "furious" Obama moments
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The mystery behind China's aggressive push into space
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- Yes, Republicans can impeach President Obama
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- The 5 best and worst states for a well-lived life
- What religious traditionalists can teach us about sex
- Why Texas' abortion rates aren't falling as quickly as everyone expected
- Why all drugs should be legal. (Yes, even heroin.)
- The 6 best low-cost smartphones
- 7 ideas from ancient thinkers that will improve your modern life
Subscribe to the Week