President Obama has replaced the commander who was losing the war in Afghanistan with the only general who may have a chance to win it.
If, that is, the president will let him.
Officially, of course, Obama did not accept the resignation of Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan because of any battlefield failures. Even if McChrystal deserved to get the boot for the sorry conditions on the ground, it would be difficult for Obama to admit such a level of failure in the plan he committed the United States to only last year.
No, the cause was the fallout from a magazine article that portrayed the attitude among McChrystal's entourage that denigrated the president and most of the civilian organizational chart that, constitutionally, the military is supposed to be serving.
McChrystal's firing was unpleasant for all concerned, but necessary.
What may turn it all into a great step forward for the allied efforts to stop Afghanistan from returning to its former status as a terrorist sanctuary was Obama's swift and universally praised choice of McChrystal's replacement.
Gen. David Petraeus is technically taking a demotion, leaving his job as head of the U.S. Central Command. But, whether out of a sense of duty to his commander in chief or relish at the chance to prove the effectiveness of his own counterinsurgency theories, he signed on quickly to take over the Afghan operation.
Petraeus is widely credited with turning a very sorry state of affairs in Iraq into the successful "surge" of 2007. Successful enough, anyway, that Obama has been able to draw down in Iraq as he builds up in Afghanistan.
Petraeus is also described as a better politician and diplomat than the general he is replacing, someone who will command the necessary respect when it comes to explaining to Obama that we have to stay or to President Hamid Karzai that we have to leave.
The bigger issue, by far, is what to do about Afghanistan.
The cardinal mistake Obama made was to tell the Taliban that we would be leaving in July 2011. What great news for the Taliban.
They already have our troops at a standstill. All they have to do is wait until next summer and they will control the country.
One wonders what foresight Obama had when he said we must send more troops to Afghanistan and then bullied his military team into guaranteeing we could win there by July 2011.
So the president pulls our troops out; that's pretty easy. What is his strategy of what he will leave behind?
Changing generals was a good decision. Now the president has to make some other changes. To start out, he has to make three things clear:
*Petraeus is in charge. Obama trusts him; he has given him authority to run the war to the best possible conclusion without over-supervising it from the White House.
*Obama has to renounce "We'll be out in 12 months, Taliban, so keep killing our troops until then and we guarantee we will leave."
*Finally, there has been constant conflict between U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and Karzai. While Karzai is less than ideal, he is the only Afghanistan leader we have to deal with.
Eikenberry has to go.