The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Monday, 20 December 2010

The Petraeus lobby

It is worth drawing attention to this article in the Washington Post, entitled 'Our best chance in Afghanistan'. The key messages are these:

- military progress in Afghanistan is undeniable (and we shouldn't worry about the seemingly increased insurgent presence in the north)
- Islamabad must do more to clear insurgent safe havens in Pakistan and Washington must put more pressure on Islamabad
- we should not rush transition
- counter-terrorism operations (SOF raids, drone strikes) are an integral part of COIN and we should not scale them back

However, the most interesting element of the article is the authors, Frederick and Kimberley Kagan. They are referred to as "independent military analysts who have conducted research for commanders in Afghanistan" which somewhat glosses over the fact that they work closely with General Petraeus and serve as his 'telescopes' - independent, out-of-the-box analysts whose insights reach from the political and strategic levels down to the ground truth at the tactical level.

That being the case, it is reasonable to suppose that Petraeus had some say in this article and that the main messages are in fact his own.

In that light, the description of US strategic goals in Afghanistan becomes especially noteworthy.
"From the Afghan border we have a unique vantage point on the groups that most directly threaten the American homeland and the stability of the entire nuclear-armed subcontinent... The ultimate goal of American strategy in the region must be ensuring that Afghanistan is sufficiently stable and friendly so that we can make the best use of that vantage point. The president's strategy gives us the best chance of doing that."
This is a clear statement that this war is not merely about chasing al Qaida operatives. This is about US geostrategic interests and about establishing a long-term physical presence in Afghanistan and in the wider region.

Furthermore, calling it the "president's strategy" is a subtle way of putting Obama on a hook and ensuring that he does not go back on his commitments. Rather less subtle is the forthright statement that President Obama must "make good on his words to American soldiers in Afghanistan last month: "We will prevail."

In short, the messages conveyed here equate to a clear statement of intent by General Petraeus. In this war, winning in Washington is as important as winning in Helmand and Kandahar.

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