The rare bipartisan support Petraeus earned with the success of the surge in Iraq was on full display in the summer of 2010, when President Barack Obama tapped him to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the top commander in Afghanistan. The Senate confirmed Petraeus by a vote of 99 to 0 ("Is Gen. David Petraeus too big to fail?" a Politico headline inquired at the time).
But Petraeus' opponents didn't wait in the shadows for long. A month into the general's tenure, the former military officer Ralph Peters was already arguing that counterinsurgency would not work in Afghanistan like it did in Iraq, and that Petraeus should instead pursue the narrower counterterrorism strategy advocated by Vice President Joe Biden. (Some would say that's exactly what he did.)
As the architect of Obama's retooled "war of necessity," Petraeus had to fend off critics ranging from Rep. Dennis Kucinich (R-OH) to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who reportedly shocked the military leader by calling on the United States to reduce military operations and end night raids in the country. Human rights groups criticized Petraeus' plan to arm Afghan villagers while military analyst Bing West maintained that the United States had not committed enough troops to Afghanistan to make counterinsurgency work, and that the strategy actually undermined soldiers by asking them to be both fighters and nation-builders.
Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the former British ambassador to Afghanistan, issued a particularly scathing assessment of Petraeus' record in the spring of 2011. "He has increased the violence, trebled the number of specialforces raids by British, American, Dutch and Australian special forces going out killing Taliban commanders, and there has been a lot more rather regrettable boasting from the military about the body count," Cowper-Coles asserted. By the time Petraeus left his post that summer, the intelligence community was much more pessimistic than the Pentagon about the extent to which the United States had weakened the Taliban and stabilized Afghanistan, and a flurry of articles about the grim fate awaiting Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal in 2014 followed.
"President Barack Obama's decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan signals the beginning of the end for the ambitious counterinsurgency strategy that Army Gen. David Petraeus designed and has single-mindedly pursued in Iraq and Afghanistan," the Huffington Post's David Wood wrote in June 2011. The journalist Michael Hastings was much harsher in a Rolling Stone book review. "Petraeus didn't win in Afghanistan -- unless one defines winning [in] the Charlie Sheen sense of the word," he wrote. "Rather, he proposed and followed a counterinsurgency strategy that was expensive, bloody, and inconclusive." Iraq, he added, "remains mired in brutal civil strife."
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