Petraeus Pushes Back on Afghan Deadline

August 16th, 2010 at 8:26 am | 7 Comments |

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David Gregory’s  interview with General Petraeus on NBC’s Meet the Press this morning is well worth watching. The General cogently addressed all of the key issues and concerns about Afghanistan, including the bottom-line question: Is it worth it, and can we win?

Petraeus’ answer in short: Yes it is, and yes we can. However, success will take time; success will not be gauged or demonstrated by traditional measures of military progress; and Afghanistan will not be transformed into a Western-style industrial democracy.

But Afghanistan can be stabilized; it can cease to be a staging ground for terrorists and terrorist networks; and it can become a more or less peaceful country, with a more representative and democratic government.

This is reassuring to hear, especially at a time when, according to a recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, nearly seven out of ten Americans don’t believe the war in Afghanistan will end successfully. Petraeus disagrees. The keys to success, he believes, are time, patience and a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy.

A counterinsurgency strategy is necessary, Petraeus explained, because in order to win in Afghanistan, the government there must gain the confidence of the Afghan people.

This is no easy task in a country that has been at war for 30 years, and which fears U.S. troops may leave prematurely. And although Petraeus didn’t say so of course, President Obama’s announced July 2011 timeline for withdrawal has seriously undermined the U.S. war effort there.

Afghans rightly see this timeline as an indication that, sooner or later, America will abandon them to the Taliban. This naturally makes them reluctant to turn on the Taliban and to work with U.S. forces. That’s why Petraeus again emphasized that July 2011 is simply the date when

a process begins, that is conditions-based. And, as the conditions permit, we [will] transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and the security forces and in various governmental institutions; and that enables a “responsible drawdown of our forces…”

Moreover, Petraeus added:

I think that we will have an enduring commitment here in some fashion, the character of which may change over time as our Afghan partners can do more, and we’re able to do less in certain areas. Certainly.

Indeed, creating and sustaining the perception amongst Afghans that America is committed to them and their country for the long-term and will not abandon them is an absolute prerequisite to success. Because as Petraeus observed, many Afghans are “professional chameleons… They end up siding with whichever side it appears is going to prevail.” That’s how they survive in this dangerous and complex, war-torn country.

Thus, America’s “first and most important task,” said Petraeus, “has to be to improve the security for the people” so that they can participate in Afghanistan’s fledgling and indigenous civic and political institutions.

Petraeus’ counterinsurgency strategy worked in Iraq; and there is every reason to think that it can work in Afghanistan. But it will take time — and probably more time than the politicians would like.

In his interview with Meet the Press, Petraeus mentioned three to five years. At another point in the interview, he mentioned five to 10 years. The three-to-five-year period, Petraeus suggested, seems to be required to stabilize Afghanistan. The five-to-ten-year period seems to be required to achieve more lofty, and perhaps unrealistic objectives, which Obama already has discounted.

Either way, Afghanistan is a long hard slog that the United States can and must win. Gen. Petraeus knows this, but does the president and do our politicians?

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7 Comments so far ↓

  • Chris

    There are lots of areas here to pick at, as usual (your columns are like slight variations of the same song played over and over). I’ll limit to just one.

    …and this is a ‘push back’ against which comments made by Obama, specifically? Which component of what you just quoted puts the general in conflict or tension with what Obama has recently said?

  • CentristNYer

    Guardiano: “Either way, Afghanistan is a long hard slog that the United States can and must win.”

    Initially I was on board with our efforts in Afghanistan. But in the intervening years, we’ve suffered a body count that doesn’t seem to be lessening, watched the Afghan leadership (our partners in Kabul) succumb to corruption and mismanagement, had a massive, worldwide economic meltdown and seen that terror networks can continue to function even without Afghan training camps.

    To not recognize and adjust our course to reflect these realities would be incredibly foolish. Petraeus means well, I’m sure, but he has a long way to go to convince a war-weary nation that this is truly a “must win” situation or even what would constitute an actual “win.”

  • balconesfault

    This is no easy task in a country that has been at war for 30 years, and which fears U.S. troops may leave prematurely. And although Petraeus didn’t say so of course, President Obama’s announced July 2011 timeline for withdrawal has seriously undermined the U.S. war effort there.

    Maybe Petraeus didn’t say so because he considers the opinion of Obama’s critics on this point to be an SOS sandwich?

    Or perhaps Petraeus just recognizes that Obama never said we would withdraw from Afghanistan in July 2011. Unlike some who presumably follow the Byron York school of listening to Obama – judge what Obama said based on what Fox News or the NY Post says he said, rather than by Obama’s actual words.

  • sinz54

    There is no magic solution that will win the Afghanistan war, put al-Qaeda out of business, and make Obama a hero.

    I’m no fan of Obama–but Obama put Petraeus in charge, and I respect Petraeus’ judgment.

    So for now, I’m going to give both of them a pass on Afghanistan.
    Let’s see what happens in 2011.

    In the meantime, we conservatives can continue to slam Obama on other things. :-)

  • easton

    I am with Chris and Balcone on this:

    “a process begins, that is conditions-based. And, as the conditions permit, we [will] transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and the security forces and in various governmental institutions; and that enables a “responsible drawdown of our forces…” is not inconsistent with this, from Obama

    Finally, there are those who oppose identifying a timeframe for our transition to Afghan responsibility. Indeed, some call for a more dramatic and open-ended escalation of our war effort – one that would commit us to a nation building project of up to a decade. I reject this course because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests. Furthermore, the absence of a timeframe for transition would deny us any sense of urgency in working with the Afghan government. It must be clear that Afghans will have to take responsibility for their security, and that America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan.”

    I also love how Republicans decried Welfare dependency on in the US but are desperate to create that cycle of welfare dependency for the Afghan people. How they are happy to state that unemployment benefits creates laziness in Americans, regardless of conditions, but in Afghanistan, they need us no matter what.

  • Rob_654

    Will a General every say, “I can’t win this and we need to leave?”

    I don’t think that any General who is in charge will every state that – and where does that leave us?

    Of course the General leading the fight doesn’t want to quit and admit that they can’t win.

    There is nothing to really “win” in Afghanistan – and we will be stuck there forever at this rate.

  • easton

    There is nothing to really “win” in Afghanistan – and we will be stuck there forever at this rate.

    But we don’t need win, we only need prevent the Taliban from winning. And in 20 or 30 years they will be relics of history as Afghanistan would slowly die without western aid and know how. Simply put, they will die of thirst without modern refiltration systems. They will die under the Taliban and the Taliban will die with them. They simply can not make water.