Petraeus, you’ll remember, wanted to dramatically expand America’s counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan. He didn’t just want 40,000 more troops. In conjunction with Hillary Clinton, he also wanted a vast “civilian surge,” swarms of American agricultural experts, engineers, and diplomats who would fan out into the Afghan countryside and do the hard work of nation building on which the Bush administration had skimped.
Biden pushed back hard. Nation building in a country as destitute and decentralized as Afghanistan, he argued, was hopeless. Besides, the Taliban didn’t threaten America; al Qaeda did. And America could handle al Qaeda with a small number of Special Operations troops on the ground supporting an aggressive, drone-dominated campaign from the air. Biden called it “counterterrorism plus.”
Initially, Obama split the difference, sending more troops to Afghanistan than Biden wanted but fewer than Petraeus had urged and setting a deadline to begin removing them within a year.