- The Washington Times - Monday, July 5, 2010

In less than three years, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus has risen from the brunt of ridicule by Democrats to President Obama’s most valuable field general.

Mr. Obama, who as a U.S. senator in 2007 skeptically grilled Gen. Petraeus on the Iraq war, has turned to the four-star general as perhaps his last chance to win in Afghanistan — the one war the commander in chief views as vital to U.S. security.

Mr. Obama, as a U.S. senator, lectured Gen. Petraeus in the fall of 2007, when the military commander testified that his Iraq troop surge was working. Mr. Obama said it was not.

“We have now set the bar so low that modest improvement — in what was a completely chaotic situation to the point where now we just have the levels of intolerable violence that existed in June of 2006 — is considered success. And it’s not. This continues to be a disastrous foreign-policy mistake,” Mr. Obama told Gen. Petraeus.

Last month, the president stood shoulder to shoulder with Gen. Petraeus in the White House Rose Garden as he announced that the general would replace Afghanistan war commander Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who resigned after making indiscreet remarks to Rolling Stone magazine.

Gen. Petraeus and I were able to spend some time this morning discussing the way forward,” the president said. “I’m extraordinarily grateful that he has agreed to serve in this new capacity.”

The four-star Army officer’s emergence as General Indispensable can be attributed, in part, to how Washington works: In 2007, he served as George W. Bush’s general; he is now Mr. Obama‘s.

As the 2008 presidential election neared, Democrats were not eager to hear anything positive about progress in Iraq. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, had declared the war “lost.”

And another thing happened. The troop surge, many analysts later concluded, worked, which is what Gen. Petraeus had said.

“It’s become apparent even to the casual observers in the political world that the surge worked,” said retired Army Col. Pete Mansoor, who served as Gen. Petraeus‘ executive officer in Iraq. “They may not say so publicly. They may not say so openly. But I think, in private, they realize the strategy worked.

Gen. Petraeus was able to turn around a war that was nearly lost in 2006,” he said. “Having seen this turnaround in the war in Iraq, I think a lot of people are hopeful that he can do the same thing in Afghanistan.”

Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said Democrats were out of power back then, but now realize they need Gen. Petraeus.

“It’s like night and day,” said Mr. Hoekstra, comparing Democrats’ criticism of the general in 2007 with their praise today. “What’s the difference? Democrats have now got to govern. They felt they could do anything for political reasons and political purposes back then. Now they’ve got to actually govern, and they have to be responsible, so they actually have to act responsibly. They actually have to take a look at Petraeus‘ record. Before, it was purely ridicule of the guy.”

Col. Steven Boylan, who was Gen. Petraeus‘ spokesman in Iraq and now teaches at Fort Leavenworth’s Command and General Staff College in Kansas, recalls a tense, politically charged Washington.

“I don’t think it would be unfair to say the issues of ‘07 were very divisive, and there was a lot of controversy and a lot of doubt with the strategy, and that doubt came through as we saw in the September ‘07 testimony,” he said.

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