King David’s War

Petraeus has a new plan to finish the war: Double down on a failed strategy.

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  1. On the morning of June 15th, 2010, Gen. David Petraeus skipped breakfast. He was jetlagged from a trip earlier in the week to the Middle East, and he was due at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill at 9:30 a.m. to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee. A veteran at these things—he had testified at least half a dozen times over the past three years, most famously as commander of U.S. troops at the height of the Iraq War—he decided not to drink much water that morning. He knew, as others sitting in front of the senators had learned the hard way, that once the marathon session began, he wouldn’t have a chance for a bathroom break. “No one wants to be sitting there with a full bladder,” a senior military official close to Petraeus tells me. “Those who ask the questions get to go in and out—but if you’re the one sitting there in front of the cameras, you have to stay there the entire time.”

    The hearing started to get interesting after 45 minutes, when Sen. John McCain took the floor. McCain wanted Petraeus, the supreme commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, to say that the deadline President Obama had set for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan—July 2011—was a bad idea. But the general, while no fan of the deadline, was too shrewd to be drawn into such an obvious spat with his commander in chief. As he evaded McCain’s badgering with an almost Clintonian ease, the senator grew increasingly frustrated.

    “Do you believe th...