The Petraeus Option

December 1st, 2009 at 11:50 pm | 26 Comments |

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Over at ForeignPolicy.Com, Thomas Ricks shares a highly pertinent question from a reader of his influential blog, The Best Defense:

‘The guy I would like to hear from on this is Petraeus. I would love to hear him look Congress and the American people in the eye and say: I think this can work.  I haven’t heard much from him lately.’ Where have you gone, Dave Petraeus? A nation turns it worried eyes to you.

It’s a great question: because as one of the chief architects of the successful surge in Iraq, General Petraeus rightly commands great deference and respect. He and his colleagues, after all, effected a dramatic turnaround of the situation in Iraq — and they did so when most so-called experts had written off Iraq as a hopeless cause. So if General Petraeus thinks Afghanistan can be salvaged, then he’s probably right, and we ought to give him (and General McChrystal) the benefit of the doubt.

As the commander of the U.S. Central Command, General Petraeus ought to testify before Congress about the president’s new plans for Afghanistan. Let us hope that he does so. In our republican system of government, after all, military leaders have a constitutional duty to serve and inform their rulers; and their rulers are the American people and the people’s elected representatives.

But even in the absence of public congressional testimony, we still have a good sense of what General Petraeus thinks about Afghanistan, thanks to an excellent piece of reporting by Hieu Tran Phan of the San Diego Union-Tribune:

‘Complex problems need comprehensive solutions, and we weren’t comprehensive enough with Afghanistan the first time around,’ Army Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in charge of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said during an in-flight interview Friday night.

Petraeus was returning from a Thanksgiving visit aboard the San Diego-based aircraft carrier Nimitz, which is operating in the Persian Gulf region to support U.S. ground troops. The San Diego Union-Tribune provided exclusive coverage of the trip.

‘Americans need to know that global terrorism will worsen unless Afghanistan is stabilized, and they must know that we’re determined to do it right this time,’ said Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command…

Petraeus said creating legitimacy for Karzai’s government, minimizing graft and beefing up Afghanistan’s federal security ranks are essential tasks, but they alone won’t bring long-lasting peace.

Petraeus and others in the Obama administration said the United States and NATO also need to address Afghanistan’s rampant poverty and illiteracy, its minuscule infrastructure, its longtime tribal frictions and the Afghan people’s mistrust of foreigners after centuries of superpowers attempting — and failing — to rule them.

‘The citizens of Afghanistan will invite the insurgents back unless we can provide for the larger population,’ Petraeus said. ‘You can’t overestimate the importance of reconstruction and infrastructure improvements…’

‘Make no mistake: Insurgents are constantly targeting these areas of success. They bomb new roads and throw acid on girls who go to school,’ Petraeus said. ‘But if we stick by the Afghan people, we will win over their hearts and minds.’

Average Afghans shun violence, he said, much like how Sunnis in Iraq became fed up with al-Qaeda attacks against their families and decided to launch an uprising in 2007. The result was the “Sunni Awakening,” in which U.S. Marines helped Sunni villages raise their standard of living in exchange for cooperation against insurgents…

As more Camp Pendleton Marines and more Army units head to Afghanistan to see how their training matches up with real combat, Petraeus asked the American public for two main things.

‘One, they need to have faith in the courage, talents and endurance of our men and women in the armed forces,’ he said. ‘Two, they have to remember our end goal there: It’s not to create a hallowed democracy like Sweden or the United States. We want to get Afghanistan on its own two feet so it can take over the lead fight against the roots of global terrorism.’

In other words, according to General Petraeus, the United States can win in Afghanistan. We can create an independent and stable Afghan state that is not a safe haven for terrorists and jihadists, and which does not threaten the stability of Pakistan and its neighbors. That’s how we define victory.

Critics of the Afghan liberation like to complain about the “difficult choices” that allegedly confront our president. They insist that there are “no good options.”

Nonsense. The choice is not at all difficult; it is very easy; and it is to win in Afghanistan. The American and Afghan people, and our allies worldwide, understandably fear that victory may not be possible, and that victory may prove too costly.

General Petraeus and our fighting men and women know better. They have seen the enemy in close quarters, and they know what victory demands. But the American and Afghan people, and our allies worldwide, need to hear this same message of resolve and commitment from our commander-in-chief — repeatedly and often.

As for options, there is but one; and it is, as General McChrystal has explained, to “conduct classic counterinsurgency operations in an environment that is uniquely complex.” Indeed, “success [in Afghanistan],” McChrystal wrote in his confidential August 30 assessment, “demands a comprehensive counterinsurgency (COIN) campaign.”

Recent Posts by John Guardiano



26 Comments so far ↓

  • mlindroo

    > ‘Complex problems need comprehensive solutions, and we weren’t comprehensive enough
    > with Afghanistan the first time around,’

    Translation: the Bush Administration did not do a proper job and now the Obama Administration will have to make some difficult, unpopular decisions to solve the problem. How many times have we seen this before!

    > But the American and Afghan people, and our allies worldwide,
    > need to hear this same message of resolve and commitment from
    > our commander-in-chief — repeatedly and often.

    Ah, the “Green Lantern” foreign policy argument as Matt Yglesias calls it. In other words, all you need is “resolve”, “willpower”, “courage”, “determination” … the “faith based” approach to foreign policy so popular among neoconservatives. More practical matters such as corrupt and incompetent Afghan leaders do not matter at all, of course.

    Elsewhere, Frum wrote:
    >the president’s message tonight to the Taliban:
    >If you can last 18 months against the United States – you win.

    Afghanistan is already the second longest was in American history, if I am not mistaken. So it seems perfectly OK to impose a deadline so that e.g. Karzai will have a reason to get his act together.

    MARCU$

  • MI-GOPer

    Thank you Marcus for proving the point that the few conservatives and fewer Republicans and far, far fewer Independents on this site have been making of late: namely, on the “All New, Really Hyped, Hope & Changey Thingey BigHugsHeal Afghani Strategy” of Obama Messiah, the first step is always to Bash Bush (yep, you did)… then support the Obama extension of the Bush-Cheney Plan implemented last March by Obama in secret (yep, you did)… then Bash Bush some more… then defend Obama Messiah’s straddling of the political fence, to appease the far Left base. so much that Obama Messiah is literally impaled on the fence post… and not in a good way.

    You did it all. The Messiah helped, of course. The far Left made him look more Flippy-Floppy than even John Kerry at the summit of his windsurfing campaign.

    “I’m putting the troops in almost as fast as I can pull them out”. Wow, stunning leadership. Obama proves again, he isn’t fit to be a leader; it’s JimmineyCricketCarter all over again.

    Last night, all I could think of was Obama Messiah in West Point trying on the helmet that Mikey Dukakis, wanna be warrior chief, donned during the 1988 campaign… “wanna be warrior in chief”. Obama was’t fit to address those brave young men and women in uniform at West Point; stagecraft in place of substance.

  • balconesfault

    Right now, intelligence estimates are that that there are about 15,000 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

    We will have 90,000 US troops in Afghanistan, with the best training and best weapons in the world.

    The right wing in America believes that it should take longer than 18 months for US troops, with a 6 to 1 advantage over the enemy to win.

    This is sad.

    If the Taliban goes out and recruits another 5,000 Afghan fighters … does this mean that we need to commit another 30,000 troops just to keep up? Another 6 months?

    Very, very sad.

  • ottovbvs

    ……..Mr Guardiano have you ever actually read that Petraeus COIN army/marine manual where for successful counter insurgency warfare he posits a ratio of 20-25 troops per 1000 of population?……either this work is total bs or we are according to Petraeus (not me) going to require a force of over 600,000 men to deal with Afghanistans…..with rotations assuming one year tours that actually means a committment of over a million men!

    …….The passage you quote is all entirely accurate but you ignore the force required to accomplish it…..this is a simple bit of math…..when are you going to address it?

    ……..Turning to the current decision you’re missing a very neat piece of reasoning by the president……he’s given Petraeus and McChrystal what they asked for in Afganistan and is going to deliver it more quickly………but by imposing a timeline he’s over turning the responsibility for achieving a result to them……if they don’t he can pull the plug on a war which is very unpopular at home

  • ottovbvs

    balconesfault // Dec 2, 2009 at 8:43 am

    “Right now, intelligence estimates are that that there are about 15,000 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.”

    ……and you believe the intelligence estimates?…….perhaps you should read Mr Ho on this subject

  • sinz54

    ottovbs: but by imposing a timeline he’s over turning the responsibility for achieving a result to them
    As Commander-in-Chief, Obama cannot “turn over the responsibility” for any of the military under his command to anyone else.

    The responsibility for the outcome of the venture is entirely his.

    As Truman said: “The buck stops here.”

  • sinz54

    ottovbs:

    One more thing. There’s no doubt that Rumsfeld and Casey made MAJOR mistakes in the Iraq War, which lengthened the war, increased American casualties, and resulted in fewer successes in meeting our objectives.

    But the RESPONSIBILITY for all that was Bush’s. He was Commander-in-Chief, and he made the command decisions.

    That’s how it works.

  • ottovbvs

    sinz54 // Dec 2, 2009 at 9:27 am

    ” The responsibility for the outcome of the venture is entirely his.”

    …….Don’t be so naive……would FDR have been responsible if Nimitz had lost Midway, or if the D day landings had failed…..ne he’d just have fired Ike and appointed someone else……Obama has given the military what they asked for and put the onus on them to achieve a result…..if they are still flailing in 18 months time support for the effort in Afghanistan will have evaporated and no one outside the crazy right will raise a peep if he pulls the plug anymore than they did when Reagan pulled the plug on Beirut

  • ottovbvs

    sinz54 // Dec 2, 2009 at 9:29 am

    “But the RESPONSIBILITY for all that was Bush’s. He was Commander-in-Chief, and he made the command decisions.”

    ……..The difference is Bush made the widely criticised decision to invade the country in the first place……Nixon’s decision to pull the plug on Vietnam after a series of failures cost him nothing because support for the war had collapsed domestically

  • MI-GOPer

    sinz54 says: “The responsibility for the outcome of the venture is entirely his. As Truman said: “The buck stops here.””

    Let’s set aside for the moment any reference to Truman implying effective leadership in wartime… that’s a whole debate for another day.

    What troubles me, sinz54, is that you want to ascribe the merits of finally making some kind of decision –albeit political manuevering of the rankest sort– by Obama as “leadership”. In fact, some of the troll-tribe regulars are calling your declaration of support for Obama as “patriotic”… a word I didn’t think they used anymore in the democrat party.

    If you’re willing to support their president’s decision on Afghanistan and are ready to hold him accountable for the results… are you also willing to hold him accountable for the US troop deaths in Afghanistan while he dithered away? Obama’s time in office has been the deadliest time for all troops in Afghanistan –to date, NATO lost nearly 1/3rd of all the casualities in 7 yrs in Afghanistan during Obama’s democrat regime alone… and US troop losses are almost the same percentage.

    Having Obama as CIC is deadly for US and NATO troops.

    While he’s been acting as prez, Taliban forces –using 17th C techniques– have been able to overrun and force the withdrawl of two allied outposts. America has lost over 300 soldiers while Obama has been acting prez… a 100% over the worst year ever under Bush-Cheney’s successful management of the war. Do you hold the CIC responsible for those unprecedented deaths while he dithered and delayed? His actions literally sent a green light to Taliban and insurgents, “press your fight now, we may be pushed over the brink and choose to cut & run rather than continue the fight.” And they did.

    Do you hold the CIC responsible for those unprecedented level of deaths while he sends a NEW message to the Taliban… just wait, we’ll be out of there before we even get settled.

    Do you hold the CIC accountable for literally telling the Afghani people, America is here right now but everything is up-4-sale if things go south and I need to jetison you to save my re-election bid in 2012?

    Your willingness to support the CIC is understandable, sinz54. We all want Obama to succeed at something, sometime, at least get one thing done right even once; he promised bipartisanship and maybe this is a close as we’ll ever get and we need to grab at it in glory. But stepping over dead soldiers to give the CIC a High5 while his only innovation was a policy of dithering away treasure, talent, time and our soldiers while he noodled seems perverse.

    300 US troops lost while he dithered. 1/3 of all US troop deaths in Afghanistan occured in the 1st year of Obama-Carter. 486 NATO deaths so far this year. That’s not leadership –that’s negligence.

  • balconesfault

    Success will only come when the Afghan people are reassured that the United States will make the sustained commitment needed to build a stable Afghan state.

    How about … success will only come when the Afghan people are willing to shed their own blood to keep the Taliban from returning to power?

    If they’re not, this is akin to if the Wright Brothers had hired some big guys to carry Orville around in a box, and then declared he was the first man to fly.

  • cpanza

    “If they’re not, this is akin to if the Wright Brothers had hired some big guys to carry Orville around in a box, and then declared he was the first man to fly.”

    That was funny! (Though I’m sure I can think of one person who was outraged — outraged I say – by it!)

  • BarryS

    Mr Guardiano.

    You don’t have to wonder what Petraeus thinks on the Presidents plan. He gave a very warm opinion of it. Not that you will acknowledge the fact because it just does not fit you worldview. By the way we are still waiting for your wisdom of what winning will be like in Afghanistan. You have been asked by at least 6 people over 3 articles and still you hide away in a hole somewhere.

    Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, said Wednesday there was a “tension” in President Barack Obama’s speech at West Point Tuesday night between the goal of winning the war in Afghanistan and the goal of ending it.

    “I think you heard some tension last night, understandable, between the desire to win the war, if you will, to achieve objectives on the ground, to do it as rapidly as we possibly can, to deploy as quickly as possible, build the Afghan forces, Afghan authorities and transition,” Petraeus said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “And then that other dynamic, again, understanding the challenges at home and assuring individuals in Afghanistan, and that is to end the war, to begin that transition that he talked about that starts in July of 2011.”

    The top U.S. general in the Mideast region said the president’s case for the strategic value of Afghanistan would help hold together the mission there, going forward.

    “I think there was a very powerful case made last night for the importance of the mission in Afghanistan,” he said. “Our overriding objective, of course, has to do with Al Qaeda.”

    Asked to respond to the criticism, from officials including former Vice President Dick Cheney, that the Obama administration had been “dithering” over its strategy for the war in Afghanistan, Petraeus praised the White House’s deliberative approach.

    “This process was actually quite good,” Petraeus said. “it was a very substantive discussion. Everybody’s assumptions and views were tested. I think out of this have come sharpened objectives, a very good understanding of the challenges and the difficulties and what must be done.”

  • John Guardiano

    BarryS,
    I’m not sure I should even engage you since you seem more intent on scoring debating points vice substantive points. (Debating points are sophomoric and do not advance or elucidate the debate. Substantive points, by contrast, contribute to the public dialogue.) Nonetheless, let me briefly address three key points that you raise:

    1. I do indeed define victory in this post. You just seem to have missed or not read what I wrote. Hint: the definition is in the paragraph that ends with this sentence: “That’s how we define victory.” I know, I know! How cryptic of me, right?! :)

    2. I don’t disagree with anything that General Petraeus has said about either the president’s speech or the president’s Afghan policy. But you have to learn to read between the lines, my friend! As a practical if not legal matter, General Petraeus is directly accountable to the President of the United States. This obviously means that General Petraeus cannot always be as candid or direct in public as he might perhaps wish to be.

    Then, too, there is the matter of civilian control of the military — which, for reasons both good and bad, legitimate and illegitimate, often keeps commissioned officers from being as forthright in their public utterances as we might like.

    The bottom line is this: General Petraeus thinks we can win in Afghanistan, and so do I. In fact, that’s why I wrote this post, my friend!

    3. For whatever reason, you keep trying to make this a partisan issue. I’m interest in the national interest and what is best for America. I’m not interested in narrow or petty political and ideological interests. Victory in war is too important to be sacrificed on the altar of petty domestic political disputes. I would hope that you agree.

    Regards,
    John

  • BarryS

    So General Petraeus is lying according to you. He is saying what the president want’s him to say. Are you joking? If he is against the strategy and is a man of honor he speaks out and takes his chops. I think you underestimate the honor of a good man and you should be ashamed.

    Bush fired how many generals for disagreeing with him?

  • John Guardiano

    BarryS,
    I never said General Petraeus is lying; quite the opposite, and you know it. You seem unable to read simple English. Therefore I will refrain from engaging you in the future, since you are not an honorable and worthy debating partner. Bother someone else, please.

    John

  • BarryS

    You still have not given YOUR definition of victory. You have surmised what General Petraeus’s definition is not based on his own words but a paraphrase of a reporters opinion.

    How are you going to “win” in Afghanistan when pretty nearly all of AQ and the Taliban is in Pakistan. And can come and go across the border at will?

  • BarryS

    Quote “As a practical if not legal matter, General Petraeus is directly accountable to the President of the United States. This obviously means that General Petraeus cannot always be as candid or direct in public as he might perhaps wish to be.”

    Sure sounds like you are saying he is lying (not saying what he means) to me.

    I have no wish to debate you. I just want to state the facts. You still have not defined “victory”. I am convinced you have no clue.

  • BarryS

    Quote “I’m interest in the national interest and what is best for America. I’m not interested in narrow or petty political and ideological interests.”

    That is a giant crock. You are a Neocon trying his hardest to discredit a Commander in chief at a time of war. Your writings here over the past month have been full of Cheneys “Ditherer”. Man up and own what you believe.

  • cpanza

    I think Sullivan has it right here: if you want to define “victory” as thinking we should remain in Afghanistan until al Qaeda and the Taliban are completely gone, and there’s a democracy that works and is not corrupt and not bankrolled by opium, go ahead. But it also means that you are for never ending war with never ending costs and never ending American deaths. It’s an unrealistic pipe dream that has no desire to confront reality or what is reasonable.

  • MI-GOPer

    John G, what you don’t know is that BarryS is really 5-6 other characters who have been manufactured for this site by a single, enterprising but time-wasting democrat activist.

    He isn’t here to debate the issues –he and his varied names are here to incite, inflame, irritate, annoy and disrupt or distract those honest people truly interested in a dialogue on how we rebuild the Party and the conservative movement.

    That you’ve elected to dismiss his questioning is ill-advised. In a short time, he and the varied names will hound you until you submit. He’ll call you a coward. He’ll call you a yellow dog. He’ll inject himself into each thread until you submit. He may not be able to waterboard you, but if he could he would and that’s pretty scarey even for a Dick Cheney fan like me.

    You can take the tack of dismissing him as insincere and frivolous –which he and his varied names are– but you do so at your own peril of a hunt and hounding unknown to you til now.

  • MI-GOPer

    cpan writes: “I think Sullivan has it right here…”

    Of course you do, cpan; Sullie is the modern day version of Daily Kos-sacks dressed up in the false finery of once-upon-a-time-conservative. Sullie is a hard core, bitter anti-Bush ego-centric piece of fluff supported –much like this site– by left activists intent on making him their poster boi of “moderate reasonableness”. Except, to most on the Right and to most conservative gays, he is neither moderate nor reasonable in his opinions.

    That you would find Sullie having anything right says more about your place on the political continuum than his value as a pundit.

    IMHO

  • cpanza

    MI-GOP:

    Your outrage driven ad hominem assessments are of zero interest to me.

  • MI-GOPer

    cpannie, I’m not surprised they have zero interest for you… you’ve clearly avoided the truth and reality for so long… even dragging you to the river and forcing you to drink the nectar of truth wouldn’t change your penchant to cling to your special blindered version of reality. It’s why you are a liberal and find Sullie such a beacon of insight.

  • cpanza

    I’m not interested because your comments have zero content in them. I think you’re aware of that, however. You’re playing a different role.

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