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.”