George Will

This is not the militarization of U.S. policy. Rather, it is the civilianization of the military, an inevitable consequence of nation-building.

Petraeus' desire to know things exceeds the capacity of things that need to be known. But Maj. Gen. Michael Flynn, deputy chief of staff for intelligence in Afghanistan, said early this year that "the vast intelligence apparatus is unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which U.S. and allied forces operate and the people they seek to persuade."

Hence the need for different kinds of persuasion, as in this from Petraeus' Iraq guidance: "Employ money as a weapon system." Money can pay local people to build schools and hospitals; money also can buy the "$10 Taliban" -- those who become insurgents just to put food on their tables. Petraeus estimates that at most 30 percent of the Taliban are ideologically fervid.

Counterinsurgency, as codified in Petraeus' writings, is not primarily about killing terrorists, although there is a lot of that. "We have hammered them pretty hard," he says, but "we don't announce every one of them" killed. "The sheer weight of the losses accumulates" -- losses of medical and command-and-control facilities, and sites for manufacturing IEDs (improvised explosive devices).

And counterinsurgency is not primarily about holding real estate. Rather, it is about protecting, and improving the well-being of, the population. This is what he means when he says "the pressure must continue, but not just kinetic pressure."

For America to fail in Afghanistan, against a force lacking airpower, armor, artillery or other serious military sinews, would be diminishing. But so might be the costs of protracted perseverance. In President Obama's calculations, those costs must include the danger of another insurgency -- one in his political base.

During his recent visit to Afghanistan, the president said: "The United States of America does not quit once it starts on something." This is not true, nor should it be. Because Petraeus cannot subdue the Taliban militarily in a time frame that American opinion will sustain, Petraeus' challenge is to persuade enough of the Taliban to abandon the fight before the Democratic Party base persuades the president to abandon it.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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