Petraeus, Afghanistan, and American Strategy


It’s not hard to overlook the fact that the United States is still engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan. But we are. Although we have been spending tens of billions of dollars a year in Afghanistan, we have only gotten the “inputs right” in the last six months, according to General David Petraeus. The general spoke at the Newseum this morning, and while the cameras were rolling he outlined some of the major challenges that the United States faces in Afghanistan. Although he gave a sober assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, a few of his points deserve closer inspection.
Petraeus began by asserting that there is little argument over America’s “truly vital strategic interest” in Afghanistan and the greater region. He is right to identify the AfPak region as critical to America’s strategic interests. However, Afghanistan is, by all accounts, the less strategically vital ‘half’ of AfPak. Even so, Petraeus explained that the United States has a real reason to be in Afghanistan–to respond to September 11th and to make sure that Afghanistan can secure itself and remove all transnational extremists. The only way to do that, according to Petraeus, is a “comprehensive civil-military counter-insurgency campaign.”
Terrorism is certainly a threat, not only to the United States but to the entire world. Moreover, the global scope of the threat reflects the fact that terrorists can hide and operate nearly anywhere. The problem lies in how to deal with that threat.
When asked why Afghanistan matters as a safe haven if terrorists can operate from Pakistan or Yemen, Petraeus responded that “we have to stop them everywhere.”
But stopping them everywhere will require a fundamental shift in the way that we deal with the threat of terrorism. The United States cannot wage another “comprehensive civil-military counter-insurgency campaign” if an attack is launched from Somalia, Yemen, or Pakistan. Terrorism is a transnational threat, and deploying ground forces to defeat it–even as part of a broader strategy–is an unsustainable solution.
— Jordan D’Amato


7 comments on “Petraeus, Afghanistan, and American Strategy

  1. Bart says:

    When asked why Afghanistan matters as a safe haven if terrorists can operate from Pakistan or Yemen, Petraeus responded that “we have to stop them everywhere.”
    This is a question that should properly be asked of, and answered by, someone above this individual’s pay grade.


  2. Paul Norheim says:

    As for ad hominems, you can do better then that, can’t you,
    car owner Drew?


  3. drew says:

    Just wondering if the sage Jordan D’Amato has his own apartment
    and car yet. It would be good if he did, because he is evaluating
    one of the superior (i.e., top 10) generals in American history.


  4. Don Bacon says:

    Since I quoted General McChrystal above, and while he was certainly not perfect, I’ll stick up for him especially over General ‘Political’ Petraeus.
    It was primarily McChrystal’s people who got him in trouble. His 2009 assessment was insightful. He was also right on ROA and protecting the people, which Petraeus has changed in his full-bore war.


  5. Tank Man says:

    I can’t take this guy (Petraeus) serious anymore. Afghanistan
    is not a “truly vital strategic interest!” He’s a broken record
    and in dozens of hearings I’ve yet to hear him answer a
    single guestion when discussing corrupt Afghan Gov’t,
    training of Afghans and % of FMC Afghan units.
    10 years in and we have “only gotten the inputs right in the
    last six months.” Geez! Can someone name a high level
    civilian or general that has been fired for this incompetence?
    McChrystal doesn’t count, he was fired for stupidity, not


  6. Don Bacon says:

    Please, don’t quote Petraeus w/o comment as if his words mean anything. A noun, a verb and 9/11 is propaganda for the proles. We try to be serious here. And terrorism isn’t a significant threat to anybody. The odds of injury in a bath-tub slip or a lightning strike are greater for Americans than any risk of terrorism.
    The same goes for Petraeus’s claim that the only way to secure America against terrorist acts is a “comprehensive civil-military counter-insurgency campaign.” That’s BS too. COIN has been discarded by Petreaus in favor of a full-on military assault which includes an expanded air war and increased civilian casualties.
    The U.S. has political and commercial interests for being involved in a never-ending war in a desperately poor, mountainous country on the opposite side of the earth, a country which in no way threatens U.S. security.
    The U.S. State Dept. has tied Afghanistan into a South/Central Asia strategy which includes the US siding with India. This has included nuclear support for India as well as a presidential visit to a country that has a presence in Afghanistan. This understandably angers India’s arch-enemy Pakistan because of the possibility of being encircled by its powerful neighbor. So we have a terrible situation where a US “partner” (Pakistan) is supporting an organization (Taliban) which is killing US troops.
    That’s the situation in AfPak that General McChrystal included in his 2009 assessment but it is a situation General Petraeus, a more political general, refuses to acknowledge, and instead feeds us the 9/11 pap.
    US Assistant Secretary of State Blake spelled out the Central and South Asia strategy, and the US-India partnership, in a speech on 19 Jan 2011:
    Energy-rich Central Asia lies at a critical strategic crossroads, bordering Afghanistan, China, Russia and Iran, which is why the United States wants to continue to expand our engagement and our cooperation with this critical region. And South Asia, with India as its thriving anchor, is a region of growing strategic and commercial importance to the United States in the critical Indian Ocean area.
    Blake went on:
    Given this dynamic regional context, we have three primary objectives in the South and Central Asia region:
    *Support international efforts in Afghanistan
    * Build a strategic partnership with India;
    * Develop more durable and stable relations with the Central Asian countries.//(end speech excerpt)
    Note: *Support international efforts in Afghanistan — in “a region of growing strategic and commercial importance”
    Nothing there about 9/11. There are more serious interests in Central Asia, where Afghanistan is the southern keystone, principally making money from its vast natural resources and cheap labor.
    Terrorists are criminals and their activities are best controlled with effective intelligence and policing, which have proven difficult for the U.S., and not with military action which simply creates more terrorists at a great cost (but with profits for war profiteers like Petraeus).


  7. DakotabornKansan says:

    When asked why Afghanistan matters as a safe haven if terrorists can operate from Pakistan or Yemen, Petraeus responded that “we have to stop them everywhere.” And the only way to do that, according to Petraeus, is a “comprehensive civil-military counter-insurgency campaign.”
    The Afghan war should be continued when only seventeen percent of our nation’s citizens “strongly believe” it’s worth fighting?
    And where will actions in Libya lead us to? What will be the end game? As Glenn Greenwald wrote,


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