The Wall Street Journal had a good news piece today on where things are going with respect to a U.S. withdrawal — at least of combat troops — from Iraq entitled “Consensus May be Nearing on Iraq Pullout: Target Year of 2010 Gains Some Traction Among Principals as U.S. Looks Toward Afghanistan.” I would add that, in addition to Obama, the Bush administration and now even the McCain Campaign, it appears that Gen. David Petraeus, who will take over as CentCom commander some time around Sep 1, is also preparing the ground for a move in that direction, suggesting in a Sunday interview with AP that al-Qaeda may “start to provide some of those resources that would have come to Iraq to Pakistan, possibly Afghanistan.”
“We do think that there is some assessment ongoing [by al-Qaeda] as to the continued viability of [its] fight in Iraq,” he said. “There is some intelligence that has picked this up,” he went on, adding, “It’s not solid gold intelligence.”
In fact, of course, evidence that al-Qaeda and its allies have shifted their focus back to Afghanistan and, more important from a strategic point of view, Pakistan has been accumulating for much of the past year; hence, Mullen’s and Gates’ increasing and increasingly vocal agitation about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and the growing influence and infrastructure of al Qaeda and Taliban forces across the border in Pakistan. In the two weeks before Petraeus’ interview, AP, the always-excellent Christian Science Monitor, and the New York Times published articles providing detailed evidence that al-Qaeda made its assessment some months ago and has been acting on it by sending many more fighters to Southwest Asia, including Iraq war veterans. That Petraeus says that he believes al-Qaeda is only now making its assessment suggests the degree to which, as U.S. commander in Iraq, he has been focused exclusively on that theater and has fought tooth and nail against the Pentagon’s desire to accelerate its drawdown in troops there in order to free up more for Afghanistan.
Now, however, as commander-designate of Centcom, southwest Asia is about to become his responsibility, and he most certainly doesn’t want to lose — or be perceived as losing — there any more than he has in Iraq. In that respect, I think he is preparing to join the consensus, a consensus that, significantly, embraces the concept — pushed hard by Obama in recent days — that Afghanistan/Pakistan really does constitute the “central front” in the war on terror. (He may also believe that Obama is going to the next president and that continuing to insist that Iraq is the “central front” might be detrimental to his long-term career goals.) If Petraeus does indeed move into the Southwest Asia camp, it will mark a huge setback for the neo-conservatives — whose Israel-centered agenda has accorded paramount priority to the Middle East and the Gulf — and whatever residual hopes they harbor for a U.S. attack on Iran. Tehran’s capacity to cause trouble in Afghanistan and even Pakistan is considerable, and I think that is one reason why Mullen and Gates have pushed for dialogue and detente.