I've sworn off predictions, having guessed wrong that a deeply apologetic Gen. Stanley McChrystal would keep his Afghanistan command. But what about GOP chairman Michael Steele? So far, at least as I write, he is weathering his own Afghan storm after dubbing the protracted counterinsurgency, President Obama's war -- as though the Obama policy were not in fact an extension and intensification of the Bush administration plan -- and then noting that history tells us war in Afghanistan is unwinnable.
But not always, as I learned after consulting Andrew Bostom's invaluable compendium, "The Legacy of Jihad." Turns out Islamized Turkic nomads came out on top, conquering the Hindu Kingdom of Kabul in the late 9th century, ending Hindu rule in Afghanistan with a victory that was, as a 13th-century-Indian-chronicler put it, "the result of treachery and deception, such as no one had ever committed."
That's one way to win. I have long argued that counterinsurgency's PC battle for hearts and minds (which Steele appears to be rejecting without articulating why) is, alas, not another. And what could we possibly get from a hearts-and- minds victory in Afghanistan -- another Iraq?
I'm afraid the answer is "bingo." Judging by the 99-0 Senate vote that confirmed Petraeus as Afghanistan commander last week, another Iraq is precisely what America wants, as though Iraq were an American "victory" worth the cost, human and monetary, of repeating.
It all depends on what the meaning of "win" is, a definition that includes pretty much anything in Iraq, even the shocking possibility, as noted by Iraq commander Gen. Ray Odierno, that United Nations forces might be needed to secure Iraq's oil-rich northern provinces after U.S. forces depart in 2011. Funny, I thought the United States fought a war about securing Iraq, or something. And funny, northern Iraq happens to be the neighborhood in which Petraeus, as commander of the 101st Airborne, first made his personal counterinsurgency mark back in 2003, 2004. A revealing Senate question for Petraeus last week might have been to ask him to assess how his policy of winning Iraqi hearts and minds (as exemplified by the posters he ordered up in 2003 in barracks asking "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO WIN IRAQI HEARTS AND MINDS TODAY?") has fared after all these years. Further, could there be anything about Islamic culture -- the institution of jihad, the animus toward infidels -- that is derailing his best-laid counterinsurgency plans in Iraq and Afghanistan?
But there was only silence on the part of lawmakers, the kind of lazy deference to military brass that inspired the British weekly New Statesman to publish an eye-catching cover story this week called "The Cult of the Generals." The piece argues that U.S. civilian leadership has abdicated its policy-making responsibilities to weirdly deified four-star generals (read: Petraeus). In a sense, Steele tripped this peculiar power circuit in his own bumbling way. There's an argument to be made that as chairman of the apparently pro-COIN GOP, that's not his job. But that doesn't absolve the rest of us, and particularly not our elected leaders, from joining the debate over COIN strategy, with its grossly unrealistic goals and unconscionable methods, and its failure to enhance American national security. After all, even an "Iraq" in Afghanistan would do nothing to neutralize Iranian and Pakistani nukes, the signal threat to U.S. interests in the region (so long as we control our points of entry against immigration and travel from the region, at least for the duration). The war doesn't make sense.
Maybe that's the case because we are so vague about what constitutes American interests -- even threats thereto. In his Fourth of July letter to forces in Afghanistan, Petraeus described the enemy as being "those who embrace indiscriminate violence and transnational extremists." Sorry, but that's loosey-goosey enough to include certain pit-bull owners and Greenpeace activists. "Together with our Afghan partners, we must secure and serve the people of Afghanistan," Petraeus continued, sounding that disconcerting (especially on Independence Day) non-American refrain of what you might call the "transnational extremists" of the COIN world. "We must never forget that decisive terrain in Afghanistan is the human terrain."
Haven't we been down this road before?