Anyone who believes that Gen. David H. Petraeus plans to overhaul the rules of engagement (ROEs) in Afghanistan due to the critical mass of ROE-caused casualties finally catching American's attention just wasn't listening to the general at his Senate confirmation hearing this week. But judging by both senatorial deference on the topic (Petraeus was confirmed 99-0) and a practically MIA media, that describes a lot of people.
Here's the first ROE question, submitted to the general prior to the hearing: "If confirmed, what general changes, if any, would you make to the current ROEs?" In response, Petraeus wrote: "One of my highest priorities, should I be confirmed as Commander of USFOR-A, will be to assess the effect of our ROE on the safety of our forces and the successful conduct of our mission."
"Assess," he said, not "change." But that was just the beginning. Yes, he declared there was a "moral imperative" to ensure that his "troopers" had the "enablers" (back-up firepower) they needed when they "got into a tough spot." More to the main point -- that restrictive ROEs are in fact the lynchpin of the disastrous counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) that Petraeus, like Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, stands for -- were Petraeus' unequivocal statements indicating that the ROE issue was "more about executing than redesign," that his overall policy review would "see if there are tweaks needed."
Or, as he stated in response to one senator's question, "It's really about the implementation of the rules of engagement and the tactical directive, both of which I think are fundamentally sound."
"I don't see any reason to change them in significant ways," he continued. "Rather, what we do need to do is make sure that the intent behind those, the intent being to reduce the loss of innocent civilian life in the course of military operations to an absolute minimum -- that's an imperative for any (counterinsurgency). We must achieve that. I have pledged to continue to do that, to continue the great work that General McChrystal did in that regard."
There's your headline: Petraeus Pledges to Continue McChrystal's "Great Work." COINdinistas rule.
Most Americans don't know what the ascendance of counterinsurgency doctrine in the US military means. Judging by the failure of the senators to raise the topic with the most famous contemporary COIN author seated before them, neither do our elected representatives. Some senators were obviously distressed by restrictive battle rules, but they didn't seem to regard them as a crucial means to COIN's fantasy-end: winning so-called hearts and minds.
The whole nation-building endeavor, too, is just another COIN fantasy effort designed to make them like us. "Soldiers and Marines are expected to be nation-builders as well as warriors," Petraeus himself co-wrote in the foreword of the 2007 COIN manual (with Gen. F. James Amos, recently tapped to serve as the new Marine Commandant). "They must be prepared to help re-establish institutions and local security forces and assist in rebuilding infrastructure and basic services. They must be able to facilitate establishing local governance and the rule of law. The list of such tasks is long ..."
You can say that again. Better, though, for our elected representatives to have read just that statement back to Gen. Petraeus and to have asked for a reaction, a reckoning, his defense of a theory that, I would argue (and frequently do), has for years misused and abused the U.S. military through its willful ignorance of the Islam-West culture clash that forever dooms all of our do-gooding. The Great Society, it's worth recalling, didn't work here on our own people. It's no more plausible, even at ROE-controlled gunpoint, on an alien society.
History confirms this. The United States engaged in intensive Afghan nation-building between 1946 and 1979 -- specifically, in Helmand Province, now, ironically, a Taliban stronghold. In other words, the program was not, as Gen. Petraeus told the Senate this week, "hugely successful." For details, read Indiana University History professor Nick Cullather's 2002 paper, "From New Deal to New Frontier in Afghanistan," which is available online. It catalogues decades of failure apparent as far back as 1949. "If illusions doomed the project they also created and sustained it," Cullather wrote, summing up American denial on Afghanistan.
And for the ages.