Petraeus: mission will be accomplished

Predicting what will happen in Afghanistan is about as wise as declaring “mission accomplished.” As he arrived to take over command of US forces in what has become America’s longest war, Gen David Petraeus might not have actually predicted the outcome of the war but he certainly narrowed what can be deemed an acceptable conclusion:

In a ceremony on the tree-shaded lawn in front of NATO headquarters in Kabul, Petraeus assumed command from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who was fired last month after a magazine quoted him and his staff making critical remarks about Obama administration officials.

A general with a sterling reputation for military creativity and political acumen, Petraeus, 57, struck a determined tone in his remarks to fellow officers, foreign diplomats and Afghan officials, insisting “we are in this to win.”

“We’re engaged in a contest of wills. Our enemies are doing all that they can to undermine the confidence of the Afghan people,” he said.

Before he mentioned the Taliban, Petraeus described those enemies as “al-Qaeda and its network of extremist allies,” harking back to the justification for invasion nine years ago. He said his mission is to demonstrate to Afghanistan and the world that the extremists “will not be allowed to once again establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan from which they can launch attacks on the Afghan people and on freedom-loving nations around the world.”

“We must demonstrate to the people and to the Taliban that Afghan and [U.S. and coalition] forces are here to safeguard the Afghan people, and that we are in this to win,” he said. “That is our clear objective.”

This commitment to safeguard the civilian population has inevitably been called into question each time an operation results in civilian casualties, yet Petraeus is now under great pressure to make it easier for his troops to fight.

A few days before Gen McChrystal got fired, CJ Chivers, a former US marine who now reports for the New York Times, wrote:

It is an axiom of military service that troops gripe; venting is part of barracks and battlefield life. Troops complain about food, equipment, lack of sleep, delays in their transportation and the weather where they work.

Complaints about how they are allowed to fight are another matter and can be read as a sign of deeper disaffection and strains within the military over policy choices. One Army colonel, in a conversation this month, said the discomfort and anger about the rules had reached a high pitch.

“The troops hate it,” he said. “Right now we’re losing the tactical-level fight in the chase for a strategic victory. How long can that be sustained?”

The Los Angeles Times reports today:

At his Senate confirmation hearings last week, Petraeus said he foresaw no major shift in strategy in the Afghanistan war. But he has made it clear that even if the rules of engagement do not change, the nuances of how they are implemented will get a close new look.

Assuming command Sunday, Petraeus told his troops that while civilian safety remains a critical consideration, “as you and our Afghan partners on the ground get into tough situations, we must employ all assets to ensure your safety.”

It was a remark apparently intended to reassure troops that the safeguarding of Afghans was not to come at the expense of military lives.

The problem with this idea that a balance can be struck between reducing the risks faced by Afghan civilians without putting American soldiers at unnecessary risk is that it implicitly overstates the military’s commitment to a humanitarian mission. The Pentagon is assuming a posture as though it treats all lives as being of equal value, yet the truth — transparent to everyone — is that America regards its soldiers’ lives as being of vastly greater value than the those of the citizens in any of the nations the US has decided to “save.”

Embedded in this is what I call the evangelical conceit: I know better than you do, what’s good for you; you will become better than you are, if you become more like me. It is the antithesis of respect, but describes the mindset with which so many Americans venture into the world on their military and religions missions.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. One can only wonder what moral quality of human being the recruitment style the Pentagon used gets and in what moral state they are returned to us. The ROLLING STONE article gave us a clue as to what quality of men become command careerists. But the real issue is what becomes of the triggermen. One can only wonder whether there is some functional connection between some aspect the all-volunteer army of today and the decrease in crime in America. LATimes report a while back described how LA Latino street gangs ordered their new recruits to join the Marines and volunteer for combat duty so they can acquire the skills they’ll need to dominate East LA’s mean streets upon return. This makes one wonder about the screening process Army recruitment are passed through when the Pentagon’s need for cannon fodder as our oil seizing expeditionary corps is so desperate. Historical precedent is there for us to examine. Universal service produced a much scared generation coming home from Vietnam, and that was under universal conscription. Clearly, the top does not sort out the best and the brightest for leadership as the last decade makes clear. After all, the men who led them post-Vietnam worry that quality officers would put their own careers in stark contrasts. But what does it do at the level of “shooter” trooper? We will never learn how many will become protectors of the peace and how many disturbers (armed) of the peace upon return. But we do have precedence in the “paras” that returned to France after Algeria. Violent crimes by skilled armed bandits became an epidemic in France for over a decade!

    Political general Petraeus may have indeed betrayed us as he perpetuates a war that may increase the number of thugs and criminals in our country, resentful of how little their scarifies produced little more than defeat and of how the dead seemed to have died for nothing; all these resentful men will have been skillfully trained by the Pentagon. Stop-loss kept them in combat fighting for their lives until now. But eventually, to stop the exanguination of the US Treasury Obama will have to bring them home. Left years behind an evolving domestic scene, they will be at a disadvantage with few useful skills for a society of money grubbers; one can little blame them if they grab at the American Dream with the only kills they know. Who among the war profiteering plump neocons can blame them should the contrast enrage them? Already the VA is experiencing cut backs demanded by the mass majority of those who never served—only cheered—in what the nation pays selectively/exclusively in gratitude for combat service. As far as the sofa-warriors are concerned a handshake and perfunctory “thanks for your service” is good enough!

    The rotund neocons “war experts” who so often explained why these soldiers need to spent yet more years in combat would then get their justice as they are liberated of wallet, life and limb.

  2. My only comment is on your choice of photograph to accompany the article. I’ve seen very similar photographs in the right wing media which supports the war. The photographs you and the right wing press use are designed to anaesthetise us to the death and destruction the US is causing.

    Could you not use photographs of the results of that soldier’s firing, or of the results of the drones? Just occasionally?

    Regards, Alex

  3. “The problem with this idea that a balance can be struck between reducing the risks faced by Afghan civilians without putting American soldiers at unnecessary risk is that it implicitly overstates the military’s commitment to a humanitarian mission.”

    Of course the easiest balance to strike is to stay home in the first place. The COIN balance is not a balance it’s self contradictory. The only way to do this would be to so flood Afghanistan with troops, 2-3 million that there is no fight. Even this would cause us to strike a difficult balance. We’d have all the challenges a domestic police dept faces with a huge language and cultural barrier.

    I’m not a fan of the police generally here, I would be much more resentful of foreign nationals policing me. Even among our domestic forces we face a huge language and cultural barrier. It is evidently insufficient to tell a cop seeking to search your vehicle, “I’d rather you not.” This is too vague, say the courts. I argue it both communicates my preference not to be searched yet expresses to the cop that I know my wishes, the law and 4th Amendment will likely be breached as well. If we can’t get this straight here, what business do we have literally on the other side of the world, re-arranging their furniture?

  4. DICKERSON3870 says

    RE: “We’re engaged in a contest of wills.” – Generalissimo Petraeus
    FROM WIKIPEDIA (excerpted): Triumph of the Will (German: Triumph des Willens) is a propaganda film made by Leni Riefenstahl. It chronicles the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg (the Nuremburg Rally was attended by Nazi supporters to promote the Nazi political party), which was attended by more than 30,000[1] Nazi supporters. The film contains excerpts from speeches given by various Nazi leaders at the Congress, including portions of speeches by Adolf Hitler, interspersed with footage of massed party members. Hitler commissioned the film and served as an unofficial executive producer; his name appears in the opening titles. The overriding theme of the film is the return of Germany as a great power, with Hitler as the True German Leader who will bring glory to the nation…
    SOURCE –
    P.S. “We’re in it to win it!”