By William Pfaff
Gen. David Petraeus, the man who replaced his former Central Command subordinate, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, when the latter was cashiered last month for insubordinate criticism of his civilian superiors, denies that President Barack Obama has given him the assignment to “seek a graceful exit” from America’s war against the Taliban. He is determined to win. He will need additional time and material to succeed, he says, but at the end of August or early September, “we will have the inputs about right,” and, with the campaign plan drawn up by himself and McChrystal “perfected,” victory will be on its way.
Actually, history is not quite as he has put it. When Obama was elected in 2008 on a campaign promise to fight the “right war” in Afghanistan, while closing down the wrong war in Iraq, he found when he arrived at the White House that Petraeus, theater commander for both Iraq and Afghanistan, had already laid out a plan that the military novice Obama was expected to follow. The new president was told that McChrystal, the prospective Afghanistan commander, would go to Kabul for consultations and return to Washington to present the plan the two generals and their staffs had already drawn up. This plan would ask for a new “surge” of troops (which had been publicized as working in Iraq). It would number more than 100,000 reinforcements plus what has become roughly an equivalent force of civilian military contractors, many of them non-Americans, who are less expensive and more dispensable than regular soldiers.
Obama asked the generals if this plan would assure the United States victory in Afghanistan within a year, so that American troops could then begin their withdrawal from that country in July 2011. “No problem, Sir,” seems to have been their answer, in the best military fashion. Improbable as this answer was, it is what the press and administration spokesmen said the generals promised Obama, and the president shook their hands and said this all sounded great.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates seems to be the only person, aside from a few journalists and other critics, who actually remembers this promise. Petraeus suggested during his tour of the American television news programs last Sunday that sending troops home a year from now might be a little premature. Gates then intervened to say that the promise given the president in 2009 by the military commanders would be kept. (Mr. Gates, a Republican, may no longer be in Washington by then.)
This was a very striking contradiction at a moment when foreign military casualties in Afghanistan since the American invasion in 2001 have passed 2,000; Afghan civilian casualties, according to a U.N. report, have risen sharply, the majority killed by the insurgents. (NATO, under both McChrystal and now Petraeus, is attempting to limit the use of air strikes because of civilian casualties.)
Recently, NATO has been yielding outposts and experiencing difficulty in holding ground newly taken from the insurgents because of the enemy’s classic practice of allowing foreign troops to occupy territory, then infiltrating NATO’s lines to sometimes devastating effect.
The Dutch have left the NATO command because of public pressure at home; the Canadians are scheduled to go; and the new British government is very unhappy with the situation. To European governments, this is a pointless and politically poisonous war that is inherently impossible to “win.” Who surrenders to whom? Better let Afghan President Hamid Karzai (who already has said he wants foreign military contractors out of the country by the end of this year) carry on with his attempts to negotiate with the Taliban, and encourage Afghanistan’s vulnerable neighboring states to work on developing regional security arrangements. They have to live with Afghanistan. The United States is on the other side of the world.
Not only is the war in Afghanistan being reinforced and perpetuated by the Obama administration, but the globalist militarism that remains the dominant force among the American policy class in Washington (Democrats prominently involved) now has its members talking to the press about its new use of “the scalpel” rather than “the hammer.” John O. Brennan, reported to be the president’s top counterterrorism adviser, says this is an international program of the assassination of individuals identified as American enemies, intended to become a “multi-generational” asset in America’s apparently permanent war to make peace. This currently is being promoted to citizens as a better idea than invading countries like Yemen, Somalia or Mauritania, overturning their governments, installing a puppet president and building democracy from scratch.
One recent political assassination mission was against “al-Qaida in Yemen”—the new name for one of the many factions that have been waging regional, sectarian, tribal and ideological wars in that country since the Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1922 (and probably since the Queen of Sheba ruled in 10th century B.C.).
The attack succeeded in killing, among others, a much-respected governor of the province, who was visiting these militants to convince them to give up their war. The president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was livid at the Americans, and paid a blood price to the tribe from which his late subordinate belonged.
Last December, another “scalpel-like” American mission in Yemen attacked a supposed al-Qaida desert training camp.
Cluster bombs were used (internationally illegal, but employed by the U.S. in the interest of efficiency). The attack extended to a neighboring desert nomad encampment. Videos of murdered children and women were quickly transmitted by the media-savvy insurgents to Qatar television and Al-Jazeera.
So it goes in Obama’s and the Pentagon’s search for a better way to wage war for democracy.
Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy,” at www.williampfaff.com.
© 2010 Tribune Media Services Inc.
U.S. Air Force / Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller
A U.S. Marine Corps EA-6B Prowler aircraft from Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, conducts operations over eastern Afghanistan.