By Arianna Huffington

Well, President Obama has succeeded in bringing at least one soldier home from Afghanistan -- welcome back, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Now if he can just hold true to his plan to begin bringing the other 100,000 or so home next year.

Before the president fired McChrystal, many wondered if he would be bold enough, decisive enough and tough enough to go through with it. We now know the answer, but the real test of his toughness will come as we approach July 2011, when he has said he will begin to bring the troops home. The pushback will be furious. Indeed, it's already started -- beginning with those inside his own administration. Just days before the Rolling Stone piece broke, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said of the July deadline: "That absolutely has not been decided."

Apparently, McChrystal wasn't the only one off the reservation. In fact, it's a bit hard to make out the borders of the reservation, since Obama's Afghanistan policy has never been clear. And now with the departure of McChrystal, and the arrival of Gen. David Petraeus, it's even less clear. What is clear is that many in Washington will use this personnel switch to try to bring about a policy switch.

According to the president, the reason we're in Afghanistan is the "clear and focused goal" to "disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida." By that standard, we should be pulling out right now. On ABC's "This Week," CIA Director Leon Panetta was asked by Jake Tapper how many al-Qaida are left in Afghanistan. "I think the estimate on the number of al-Qaida is actually relatively small," said Panetta. "At most, we're looking at 50 to 100, maybe less."

Fifty! That means there are more Kardashians in Los Angeles than al-Qaida in Afghanistan. According to Panetta's figures, we now have 1,000 to 2,000 soldiers for each and every al-Qaida fighter who didn't get the change of address cards bin Laden sent out -- and we're spending $1 billion to $2 billion per terrorist this year.

It's a lousy bang for our buck, but at least we've accomplished our mission, right? Wrong. "Our purpose, our whole mission there, is to make sure that al-Qaida never finds another safe haven from which to attack this country," Panetta said. "That's the fundamental goal of why the United States is there. And the measure of success for us is: do you have an Afghanistan that is stable enough to make sure that never happens?"

But Pakistan is far more stable than Afghanistan and has proven a relatively safe haven for all sorts of bad guys. Or as Duncan Black put it: "The stability of the state of Afghanistan and its willingness to house bad actors are completely unrelated to each other. More than that, potential bad actors can, roughly, find a 'safe haven' just about anywhere they want."

It's a curious thing about Afghanistan: Every time a politician makes a case for why we need to stay, he or she ends up making the case for why we should leave. "It's harder, it's slower than I think anyone anticipated -- but at the same time, we are seeing increasing violence," said Panetta. "We're dealing with a country that has problems with governance, problems with corruption, problems with narcotics trafficking, problems with a Taliban insurgency." Other than that, it's going great.

It's unfortunate that it was Gen. McChrystal's petty comments about Obama and his inner circle that grabbed all the headlines from Michael Hastings' Rolling Stone piece, because the real, and much more important, aspect of the story was the dark picture it painted of what's going on in Afghanistan. Several soldiers and aides to McChrystal had no trouble connecting the dots that seem to be eluding those within the Beltway.

Staff Sgt. Kennith Hicks put it very succinctly: "We're f---ing losing this thing," he said.

"If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular," said a senior adviser to Gen. McChrystal.

As Frank Rich noted recently, "Until last week, Obama's only real ally in making his case was public apathy."

And now comes Gen. Petraeus, buttressed by his credulous chorus in Washington, so willing to abdicate the responsibility of making the hard choices we elected them to make. What will the general decide once he's looked over his new portfolio? We don't know. But it's important that, whatever it is, Obama shows the same boldness and leadership he showed with McChrystal and sticks to his plan to withdraw.

The initial signs are not promising. In his speech last week announcing the appointment of Petraeus, the president didn't mention the July 2011 deadline -- an omission that caused Bill Kristol to gush: "Let us now praise Barack Obama. . . . The only thing Obama could have done to more dramatically minimize the significance of the July 2011 date would have been explicitly to repudiate it. He should do that, and in a few months he may." When Bill Kristol is singing hosannas to your war policy, it's past time to rethink it.

The foes of withdrawal are plainly hoping the arrival of Petraeus will mean the departure of the 2011 withdrawal deadline. But in making that call, Obama should be guided by the facts on the ground, not the number of politicians who are putting all their eggs in Petraeus' basket.


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