Has guns, will travel. (AP photo)
Is Petraeus figuring on perpetual war?
COMMENTARY | July 13, 2010
In his confirmation testimony, General David Petraeus said the U.S. would allow no sanctuaries for al Qaida or other extremist elements, anywhere. Just what does that mean? Does it mean U.S. troops in Yemen, for example?
By George C. Wilson
Is Congress willing to keep financing wars like the ongoing one in Afghanistan in perpetuity? Gen. David Petraeus, Congress’ military darling, sounds like he is counting on it. Just read what he said at his June 29 confirmation hearing
with no senator bothering to draw him out on the implications of his statement for the United States generally and the American military specifically:
“We cannot allow al-Qaida or other transitional extremist elements to once again establish sanctuaries from which they can launch attacks on our homeland or on our allies. … It is going to be a number of years before Afghan forces can truly handle the security tasks in Afghanistan on their own.”
Would Petraeus therefore recommend to President Obama that he send American troops into Yemen or any other country on the planet if terrorist groups decided Afghanistan had become too hot for them, folded up their tents and set up training camps and crude bomb factories elsewhere? “Have guns, will travel” seems to be Petraeus’ M.O.
Is the present Petraeus effort to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people therefore just one battle in an endless war against terrorism? If so, why are allies like Germany and the Netherlands, who are closer to the terrorist hotspots than the United States, pulling in their horns and taking troops out of Afghanistan rather than sending more in?
What if leaders of al-Qaida and the Taliban imitate their North Vietnamese and Vietcong forbearers and go all-out to launch their version of a Tet Offensive to turn more Americans and lawmakers against the war in Afghanistan? I helped cover the Tet Offensive for The Washington Post in 1968 and came to realize that it was a military defeat for our then-enemies but a huge psychological victory for them. Members of the House told me at the time that they were shocked to see pictures of the bad guys right inside the U. S. Embassy in Saigon after being assured by the White House and Pentagon that this would never happen.
What will Obama and Petraeus, his new commander of the war in Afghanistan, do if the money-hungry leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan work out a deal with the bad guys and tribal leaders and demand that American troops leave their countries?
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin is at the forefront of those in Congress who want to hand the Afghan war over to Afghan forces as soon as possible. Afghanization of the war is his stated objective. But like the South Vietnamese before them, Afghanization looks to most Afghans surveyed like depending on the foxes to guard the chickens, as was often the case with Vietnamization.
I was in Danang in 1972 with translator Chuck Benoit when Vietnamization was in full swing. South Vietnamese civilians told us it was frighteningly common for South Vietnamese soldiers and cops to back up their trucks to private houses in the middle of the night, break in, carry the family’s furniture into the trucks and drive away.
On Thursday, the Washington Postpublished the results of polling by Integrity Watch Afghanistan, which indicated Afghans see their police and judges as the most corrupt officials in their entire government, especially in rural areas.
The Post story quotes Lorenzo Delesgues, co-director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan, as saying this about corruption in Afghanistan: “It has become a phenomenon that is more widespread and really institutionalized. It has become easier for people to get away with corruption.” Afghan corruption is stinging salt being thrown into the physical and mental wounds of American and NATO troopers fighting and dying in Afghanistan, as well as their families. Especially their families.
How does Petraeus’ “have guns, will travel” philosophy on combating terrorism, wherever it sprouts, square with Obama’s statement on page 23 of his recently issued “National Security Strategy” white paper about the greatest danger Americans face? Obama or somebody working for him wrote this: “The American people face no greater or more urgent danger than a terrorist attack with a nuclear weapon.” If such a horror should occur, who would respond to treat the victims if the state’s National Guard units were not home but fighting terrorists overseas?
If Obama or his successor, as well as Congress buys into Petraeus’ go-anywhere approach to fighting terrorism, we would have to expand the active duty military beyond the 1.4 million men and women out there now.
By the Pentagon’s admission, we had active-duty military people in 150 foreign countries in 2009. On top of them, we have an unknown number of shadowy military and CIA operatives abroad with U. S. government licenses to kill. Does Congress, which the Founding Fathers empowered to provide for “the common defense,” know about them?
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would label me as “one of those quagmire guys.” And he would be right. I see how Obama got into Afghanistan. I don’t see how he’s going to get out with honor.
Lets try this again
07/14/2010, 12:09 PM
General David Patraeus is the right man for this mission. He has shown himself to be capable of taking academic theory and effectively applying to COIN operations. He has also shown himself quite adept at navigating the world of politics and building strong relationships between civilians in Washington and the battlefield.
I was rather taken back with Wilson’s Tet example. Its interesting that Wilson correctly concludes that Tet was a complete military defeat for the NFL and the NVA. The NVA lost seven divisions and the NFL was wiped out as an insurgent force in the South, but the press certainly didn’t report it that way. Considering that Wilson was part of the press corps and he admittedly knew the truth of the operations military failure for the North, why were so many of the politicians he spoke with duped into falling for Hanoi’s propaganda?
If the Taliban tries to repeat Hanoi’s Tet offensive and comes up just as short of all their tactical and strategic objectives, will “journalists” like Wilson once again hand them a more important propaganda victory and help our enemy snatch victory from the jaws of defeat just like Wilson did in Vietnam?
Bad analogy, but reason for concern
07/27/2010, 03:58 PM
I share Mr. Wilson's trepidation regarding General Petraeus' statements during his confirmation hearing. I also share his disappointment that those statements were not challenged or questioned.
However, I do wish he would not default so often to Vietnam analogies. There are many similarities, but no one war is ever like another. The North Vietnamese effort was a great example of a highly disciplined, tightly controlled, political/military organization that was willing to accept tremendous human losses - and they would never have quit.
Afghanistan is tribal and fractious. The possibility of a Tet style offensive requires tremendous coordination, lots of military manpower and equipment. It does not currently fit the circumstances in that country.
However, the willingness of the American public to support endless war is not a given.
I wish to recommend a book to DShaw - "None So Blind" by George W. Allen. Allen, an experienced intelligence analyst involved in the Vietnam situation from 1949 until 1968, makes it clear in his book that our failure there was due to a lot more than American journalists handing the North Vietnamese a propaganda victory.