General Petraeus: Our Man in Afghanistan
Can General Petraeus Win the Afghan War?
One need only listen to the Senate hearings on the President’s selection of General Petraeus as the new supreme commander of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan in order to recognize how much easier it is to start a war than to end one. And this may be truer of Americans than for other nations because any American President who seeks to end a war without a clear cut “victory” does so at his political peril due to the power of the prevailing ideology of “American Exceptionalism.” Hence our President’s continue to squander the nation’s blood and treasure during Marches of folly in foreign wars even when nobody can define what “victory” is.
The theory of American Exceptionalism – a silly and dangerous idea – holds that the United States is uniquely good and wise compared to other nations because it’ s founding was an act of divine providence; a Manifest Destiny. Thus American ideas and actions regarding other peoples are always morally right because God is on our side. This is how the official mythmakers justify the genocide and massive land theft by the Europeans who became “white Americans,” and it is how our leaders now justify the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths that have resulted from American military actions.
The fact that the American government labels these deaths accidental or “collateral damage” does not, and cannot, justify this slaughter of innocents seems to escape most Americans – until it is used as an excuse by former military men who engage in actions that result in the slaughter of innocents at home like Timothy McVey. However the nearly decade of war waged by the US in Afghanistan has made one thing abundantly clear: There will be no “victory” in that country in any conventional understanding of the word.
Hence in spite of his confident demeanor as he answered the Senators questions today, I cannot help viewing General Petraeus as the next sacrificial lamb. Changing command in Afghanistan is like changing captains on a sinking ship. General Stanley McChrystol is fully as capable a commander as Petraeus, and he was certainly brave and flexible in his approach to conducting the war. He was so committed to Petraeus’ counter-insurgency strategy that he often walked into Afghan villages unarmed to try and win the confidence of the village leaders. However the Taliban remained unimpressed because they are operating from a world view that casts Americans as evil, decadent, infidel invaders who are enemies of Islam.
Although General McChrystol instituted all sorts of restraints on the use of deadly force by his troops, one misplaced American bomb that kills innocent bystanders – which happens all the time – will nullify any goodwill such tactics may have engendered and new recruits rush to the rebel ranks. That’s the reality of the Afghan war…and that’s why no matter who is in command it will remain an impossible mission.
Harlem, New York
June 29, 2010
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