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Petraeus Weighs in on the GWOT


Today’s Telegraph has an excerpt from a recent speech given in London by David Petraeus, former commander of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and former director of the CIA. It is a sober and informative reflection on the Global War on Terror and what General Petraeus believes Britain and America’s duties are going forward. As is to be expected from the estimable four-star general (ret.), it is a beautiful and learned piece of writing that deserves our attention. Here’s a taste:

When I was working on the “surge” strategy for Iraq, I remarked that “everyone must do nation-building” whether they liked it or not—and also that success requires more than just military operations. These principles run deep in history and common sense; none the less, they remain contested, particularly by some who would like to return the focus of our military to its so-called traditional war-fighting tasks.

Yet shedding our capabilities for stability operations will not make the need for these capabilities disappear. All future operations will continue to include some mix of offence, defence and stabilisation; and most will be comprehensive civil-military endeavours, requiring us to employ every tool in our diplomatic, economic and defence arsenals—in concert with coalition partners and host nations.

Given the understandable desire to minimise our commitments, we will have to place a greater emphasis on security assistance, to enable others to meet their own challenges. Along these lines, it would be wise to recognise that an ounce of prevention will often be worth a pound of cure. And that, in another observation from my days in Iraq, “money is ammunition”—something equally true at a strategic level.

TE Lawrence famously observed, “Do not try to do too much with your own hands.” A light footprint is desirable whenever possible. Indeed, it is typically the right approach—except when it is wrong. And in those cases, policymakers need to be forthright in determining our interests, our options, and ultimately our actions.

General Petraeus asks some tough questions: “Will this operation (or policy) take more bad guys off the street than it creates by its conduct?” He wants us to answer those questions with humility but also with cold realism, accepting the responsibility to maintain the edge in irregular warfare that the American and British armed forces have achieved since 9/11.

The piece can also be read as a warning to believers in the COFKAGWOT (the conflict formerly known as the global war on terror): “Our enemies will typically attack us asymmetrically, avoiding the conventional strengths that we bring to bear. Clearly, the continuation of so-called ‘small wars’ cannot be discounted. And we should never forget that we don’t always get to choose the wars we fight.”

Indeed. Take the time to read the whole thing here.

[David Petraeus image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

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  • Pete

    He still sounds like a nation builder.

    If so, the general is on the wrong side of history. Maybe Petraeus should look at the financial condition of the U.S. before he speaks.

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