Petraeus subtly points a finger

PETRAEUS SUBTLY POINTS A FINGER…. Gen. David Petraeus, hoping to change public attitudes about the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, has spent some time with major media outlets — the New York Times, “Meet the Press,” the Washington Post — as part of an apparent p.r. campaign. The general, not surprisingly, believes the current policy, announced eight months ago, will pay dividends and succeed in time.

What I did find at least a little surprising was Petraeus’ willingness to join the Obama White House in subtly blaming the failures of the Bush/Cheney era for many of our current predicaments.

U.S. military leaders inherited a faulty strategy for the war in Afghanistan at the end of the Bush administration and are still working to “refine the concepts,” the U.S. commander said in an interview airing Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

In his first interview since taking over as head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus told NBC’s David Gregory that when “a lot of us came out of Iraq in late 2008 and started looking intently at Afghanistan, we realized that we did not have the organizations that are required for the conduct and the comprehensive civil/military counterinsurgency campaign.”

In the interview, which was conducted last week in Kabul and aired Sunday, Petraeus did not specifically criticize former President George W. Bush, who promoted him to head of U.S. Central Command in April 2008. But the timetable he described left little doubt that he believed the Bush administration inadequately laid the groundwork for integrating Afghan leaders into the allied military structure.

“Over the last 18 months or so” — Bush left the White House 18 months ago — “what we’ve sought to do in Afghanistan is to get the inputs right for the first time,” Petraeus said.

When President Obama unveiled the new U.S. policy in Afghanistan in early December, he called out his immediate predecessor for pursuing a failed policy for so long. By 2003, “al Qaeda was scattered and many of its operatives were killed. The Taliban was driven from power and pushed back on its heels. A place that had known decades of fear now had reason to hope.”

But, Obama noted, then Bush decided to invade Iraq, diverting troops, resources, diplomacy, and national attention from Afghanistan, which precipitated deteriorating conditions and the reemergence of the Taliban. The president implicitly left no doubt about that Bush’s tragic misjudgments made an awful situation much more difficult.

At the time, the right responded the way it always responds — by insisting that it’s wrong to blame Bush, even when Bush deserves blame. But now that Petraeus is making a similar case, will conservatives complain about him, too?