Thursday, March 17, 2011 3:41 AM
US Army 2nd Lt. Stephen Petraeus, Wardak Province, A-stan, September 2010: Now we know -- what?
Some fireworks at Gen. Petraeus's appearance before Congress yesterday. I would like to see the plain, unadorned transcript but so far all I can find are a couple of write-ups that tell us that, while questioning the general, Rep. Walter B. Jones (R-NC), whose district includes Camp Lejeune, asked Petraues to "be honest" about how long US troops would have to remain in Afghanistan. Here's the core exchange:
JONES: You know, 15, 16, 17 years, for God sakes, how much more can we take, how much more can we give treasure and blood?
PETRAEUS: I may not be at this table, probably won’t be, in 2015, but I’ll tell you that my son is in uniform, and Lieutenant Petraeus just completed a tour in Afghanistan, which thankfully we were able to keep very quiet, and left in November after serving as an infantry platoon leader. We’re very proud of what he did. He thinks he was doing something very important.
Was that an answer to the Congressman's question, or an ace-in-the-hole? Today's headlines all focus on the general's revelation, heretofore secret, that his son Stephen, a 2009 MIT graduate, completed a combat tour in the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in November, successfully maintaining his "cover" (that is, successfully avoiding press or enemy notice). It was an emotional answer to an emotional question. The Congressmen put out his generalized concern for unending expenditures of US treasure and blood -- how much more can we take? -- and the General countered by revealing that he had, in effect, put his own treasure and blood on the line -- his son. In the face of what amounted to a royal flush, the Congressman appears to have folded.
This is not the way to debate the war in Afghanistan. The fact that Petraeus has a "personal stake," as the press is now calling it, in the success of the ill-conceived, see-no-Islam, hearts-and-minds COIN strategy, of which Petraeus is a principle author, in no way illuminates, validates or defends the strategy. Jones missed a crucial opportunity here to engage in a sorely needed, rational discussion of the COIN strategy. By exhorting the general to "be honest" -- even in a figure of speech -- Jones appeared to raise a question about Petraeus' sincerity, which isn't at issue.
A bit more context for the exchange from the Daily Mail:
Gen Petraeus said he would be forthright 'if I ever felt that we couldn't achieve our objectives' after he was asked to 'be honest'.
With President Obama promising that U.S. combat troops would be withdrawn by the end of 2014, dependent on the Afghan government providing its own security, a skeptical Mr Jones said he could imagine a senior military leader coming before congress in 2015 and pleading for more time.
He said: 'You know, 15, 16, 17 years, for God sakes, how much more can we take, how much more can we give treasure and blood?'
Gen Petraeus replied: 'I may not be at this table, probably won't be, in 2015, but I'll tell you that my son is in uniform, and Lieutenant Petraeus just completed a tour in Afghanistan, which thankfully we were able to keep very quiet, and left in November after serving as an infantry platoon leader.
'We're very proud of what he did. He thinks he was doing something very important.'
It comes after the general said passage of a House resolution calling for withdrawal of U.S. forces by the end of this year would undermine the coalition effort and be hailed by Taliban and Al Qaeda as a victory.
He told Congress that the war was turning around and U.S. forces were on track to begin withdrawing troops in July.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee yesterday, he said: 'The Taliban and Al Qaeda obviously would trumpet this as a victory, as a success. 'Needless to say, it would completely undermine everything that our troopers have fought so much for and sacrificed so much for.'
He also called those gains -- you guessed it -- "fragile."
Petraeus is as deeply vested in the success of this war as he could possibly be. Too vested, I think, to see the basic flaws of the COIN strategy he has been implementing since Iraq. For four years, General Petraeus has been telling the American people that any and all gains in both Iraq and now Afghanistan are "fragile and reversible." And so they are -- specifically due to those crucial pieces of COIN strategy that must be executed by host populations, not the US military, and which have not been so executed and never will be so executed due to their Western, non-Islamic nature. COIN, which includes the vaunted "surge" in Iraq, is conceived as a one-size-fits-all strategy, but it doesn't fit a sharia culture.
Once upon a time, how long would a commanding general have kept his post with a strategy that has admittedly achieved so little in a time span (2007-2011) about as long as World War II, and with no end in sight? Walter Jones' evident frustration arises from the leadership vaccum (of which he is a part) that has allowed this untenable situation to drag on: war unending in the Islamic world for what the American people are realizing is no discernible, overriding US security interest. "The Taliban and Al Qaeda obviously would trumpet this [withdrawal] as a victory, as a success," Gen. Petraeus says. That is insufficient reason to spend $350 million a day and uncounted limbs and skull pieces to fight on for the dubious benefit of one sharia-culture (the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, with its Taliban outreach continuing apace) over another (the Taliban with its IROA outreach continuing apace).
Additionally, I submit that simply pinning down and exhausting the US military (and taxpayer) in Af-Pak is itself a victory for the Taliban and Al Qaeda every day. And if such an exercise is contrary to American interests -- which I think it surely is -- it doesn't matter whether the forces of jihad, of which Al Qaeda and the Taliban are only a part, trumpet our departure as a success. That certainly is the lesser of two evils. Indeed, withdrawal could be turning point for the US if it were conducted as a manifestation of the junking of COIN and the realization that we need a new line of battle. We need to stop fighting to extend Western liberty to sharia cultures while such cultures are meanwhile extending sharia into Western cultures. Of course, simply halting the hemmoraeging of blood and treasure for the Impossible Dream -- a COIN-induced, anti-jihad, Western-allied Afghanistan -- would be victory enough.
So far, tragically, this isn't in the cards yet, no matter what game Walter Jones and David Petraeus are playing in the committee room.