The conversation: Evaluating Gen. Petraeus' assessment of the war in Afghanistan
Army Gen. David H. Petraeus testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday to give his assessment of military progress that would allow the U.S. to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. Here's the reaction:
The United States still has a strong strategic interest in Afghanistan
We respect the general, and we hope his caveated optimism is warranted. But we need to hear more from him and from President Obama about their strategy for holding cleared areas of Afghanistan and their plans for building up a minimally competent and credible Afghan government so American troops can go home. […]
For the first time, American officials appear serious about the idea of political negotiations with the Taliban. We don’t know if there is a deal to be had. But the best chance of peeling off fighters, or changing the minds of some leaders, is right now while the United States and NATO have a military advantage.
Withdrawal of troops scheduled for July looks increasingly like a token operation
We would like to think that the gains Petraeus talked about can be sustained. No one wants to see the United States squander the investment it has made in lives and resources. Perhaps staying the course for another three years will result in the achievement of everything the United States has sought in Afghanistan: the routing of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other terrorists; an honest and credible government in Kabul; a professional Afghan army, and a lasting improvement in the lives of ordinary people, including women.
We'd like to believe that's possible, but we're haunted by the image of another general warning in three years that recent gains in Afghanistan were "fragile and reversible."
The ideal outcome
The conditions for this particular war's end, he and others have said, are that the reconciling insurgents must agree to sever all ties with al-Qaida, abandon violence, and give allegiance to the Afghan constitution—a tough bargain. One way to pressure any serious insurgent leader to submit is to rack up some military victories and show that we're in this fight for a while. (The beginning of the U.S. troop withdrawal this July will probably amount to some minor "thinning out" of support troops, not the withdrawal of any combat units.)
What the majority of Americans want
A majority of the American people may oppose the war, but the political class seems quite comfortable at this point to let the president and the generals pursue it as they see fit — at least until 2014, halfway through the next presidential term.
This is not "Obama’s war"; it is America's war
I happen to think it would be a grave moral and geopolitical mistake to retreat in Afghanistan, particularly since demonstrable progress is being made under the command of General David Petraeus (see here and here). If others disagree, then the debate should be engaged. But to try to split the country along partisan lines in the way [Chris Plante, who hosts a talk show on WMAL] is doing is troubling. It was wrong when the left did this with Iraq (“Bush’s War”), and it is wrong for conservatives to do it with Afghanistan.
I would add one other thing: whatever complaints conservatives have against Obama — and I’ve made mine clear on almost a daily basis since January 20, 2009 — Afghanistan is one area where he’s made the right decisions, from increasing the number of troops, to endorsing a more traditional counterinsurgency strategy, to asking Petraeus to oversee the war effort.
Don't compare Petraeus to Charlie Sheen
About Rep. Lynn Woolsey accusing Gen. Petraeus of using a "Charlie Sheen counterinsurgency strategy" in Afghanistan:
The Charlie Sheen reference is just another way of calling Petraeus a liar, and adding in a dig at his mental health as well. Comparing a man who has dedicated his life to America's security to a drug-addled celebrity in full meltdown is par for the course for "progressives" the last few years, although in this case it reflects far more on Woolsey's questionable state of mind than on Petraeus. Is Woolsey that desperate for a headline? Maybe her constituents should send her to political rehab in 2012, and let her call that “winning.”
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--Alexandra Le Tellier
Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, gives his assessment of military progress that would allow the U.S. to begin withdrawing troops. Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images