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Juan Cole: Real Petraeus Failure Was Counterinsurgency in Iraq, Afghanistan

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  • Ed Pearl
    http://www.democracynow.org/2012/11/12/juan_cole_real_petraeus_failure_was Juan Cole: Real Petraeus Failure Was Counterinsurgency in Iraq,
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 13, 2012
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      Juan Cole: Real Petraeus Failure Was Counterinsurgency in Iraq,
      a92a&id=5768069968&e=b48e164f22> Afghanistan

      November 12, 2012

      AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show with the surprise resignation of CIA
      director David Petraeus last week following revelations of an extramarital
      affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, a married Army reservist. In a
      message to CIA staff, the 60-year-old four-star general confessed he was
      resigning because of the affair. He wrote, quote, "After being married for
      over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an
      extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as
      the leader of an organization such as ours," end-quote.

      The former head of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Petraeus retired from 37
      years in the military to head the CIA last year. Broadwell's biography is
      called All In: The Education of General David Petraeus. It was published in
      January. Over the weekend, new revelations suggested she had sent harassing
      emails to Jill Kelley, a 37-year-old woman from Florida and a family friend
      of Petraeus and his wife Holly. The FBI launched an inquiry after Kelley
      said she had received vicious emails from the CIA director's biographer. Its
      investigation revealed the affair and led agents to believe that she or
      someone close to her had sought access to his email.

      Well, on Sunday, Democracy Now! spoke to historian Juan Cole about the
      significance of Petraeus's resignation. Juan Cole is professor of history at
      the University of Michigan. His most recent book is called Engaging the
      Muslim World.

      JUAN COLE: I was opposed to General Petraeus becoming head of the CIA in the
      first place, because one of the CIA's charges is to evaluate policy, and one
      of the big policies that needs to be evaluated is the troop escalation, what
      is called the "surge," in Afghanistan, the big counterinsurgency program
      that Petraeus put into place and then shepherded through as commander on the
      ground. And the CIA can't properly evaluate that program if its head is the
      author of the program. And I'm sure the analysts tried, and maybe Petraeus
      tried to be objective, but it's just not right. So I think that's the real
      issue here, is why did the Obama administration put an actor in a military
      role, then as the head of the agency that will evaluate the actions?

      And I think that we need a big national debate about Obama's troop
      escalation in Afghanistan. It was a failure. Obama is committed to
      withdrawing in 2014. I think that's generally a good thing. But did we
      really need the troop escalation? How well did it work? Should we do any
      more of them? All of those things can't be addressed unless we have a
      national debate on this policy. I'm sure General Petraeus's Gmail was very
      important and that the security issues were there, but really, that's not
      the big issue here.

      AMY GOODMAN: It's interesting. This all takes place as Robert Bales is being
      questioned, whether he will be court-martialed for the murder of 16 Afghans
      at Fort-he's now at Fort Lewis-McChord in Washington state.

      JUAN COLE: Yeah, well, you know, I'm from a military family, Amy, and I
      really mind that the events in Afghanistan are kind of offstage. We have
      almost no mainstream media reporting on Afghanistan. Our guys are out there
      fighting, and if they get killed, it's on page 17. It's not right for a
      country to be at war unless it's committed to the war. It's not right to
      have the war proceed offstage. It's not right not to have any public
      discussion of the mistakes that were made, the kind of command structure
      that was there. Obviously, there's a lot of troops there who have been in a
      lot of rotations and some of them have a lot of PTSD, and there's a lot of
      issues here which our country is not coming to grips with.

      AMY GOODMAN: When you talk about the surge failing, why did the surge in
      Afghanistan fail?

      JUAN COLE: Well, I believe that it was doomed to fail, because the way that
      Petraeus and his colleagues conceived of a counterinsurgency program had
      this mantra: "take, clear, hold and build." So they would take a village,
      clear it of Taliban, hold it for some months to reassure the local people,
      "Taliban are not coming back; you don't have to be afraid of reprisals if
      you cooperate with us," and then build up local police, local security. At
      one point, General McChrystal talked about bringing "a government in a box"
      from Kabul. I mean, this entire project was so fantastic and unconnected to
      reality. Kabul barely has a government itself, much less having boxes full
      of them to send around to the provinces.

      And it was overambitious. In order for this kind of thing to succeed-and I
      doubt it could succeed, it required convincing Pashtun villagers that they
      should like us better than their cousins, right? And how likely was that?
      But if it were going to succeed, it would require a lot more troops than
      were committed to it. So, you had that famous Marjah campaign, remember? And
      then they said they were going to do Kandahar, and then the whole thing
      petered out, and we never heard anything more about it. And Vice President
      Biden was opposed to this plan. He thought, if terrorism crops up, if you
      get explosions going off killing villagers, send in a SWAT team to deal with
      that, and instead of trying to kind of reformulate Afghanistan. And they
      attempted to do it relatively on the cheap. And so, in my view, it was one
      of the big mistakes of Obama's first term, was this attempt to do
      counterinsurgency on that scale in Afghanistan. And it clearly failed.

      AMY GOODMAN: Anything else we should know about General Petraeus?

      JUAN COLE: Well, you know, I think General Petraeus, in his heart, was
      opposed to the Iraq War and a little bit puzzled as to what in the world the
      Bush administration thought it was doing, because there's that famous
      interview he gave early on, and when he was in Mosul, he said, "How does
      this end?" He couldn't even conceive of it. I saw him on television
      interacting with Arab families. It was set in Mosul. He went to them and
      asked, "What do you need? What can I get you?" So, I think among the
      generals who served in Iraq, he was one of the ones who tried to reach out
      to people and tried to accomplish something.

      And I think he learned the wrong lessons from Iraq, because the U.S. was
      defeated in Iraq. And the only reason that they didn't have to leave on
      helicopters suddenly at the end was because the Shiites ethnically cleansed
      the Sunnis. And it happened around the same time as the Petraeus troop
      escalation or surge in Iraq. And I think he took the wrong lesson from what
      happened in Baghdad. He kind of allied with the majority community, then
      took it and tried to replicate it in Afghanistan. That was the big error.

      And this personal issue that cropped up that ruined his career at the end,
      is very much a minor thing, as a historian, I have to say, compared to his
      big exploits in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the tragedy here is that even with
      someone like Petraeus, who had a Ph.D. in international studies, is an
      intelligent, competent man, was put in an impossible situation. The days
      when a great power can successfully occupy a Global South country were over
      with. And the Project for the New American Century simply wouldn't come to
      terms with that reality. And so, in many ways, General Petraeus's career got
      ruined twice.

      AMY GOODMAN: And what do you mean, Project for a New American Century, PNAC?
      Explain what that is.

      JUAN COLE: Well, the Project for the New American Century was thought up by
      the neoconservative movement in the late 1990s. They felt that the Soviet
      Union had fallen, the U.S. was now the sole superpower, what the French call
      a "hyperpower," and that it could act with impunity. So if it wanted to
      invade and occupy Iraq and reformulate Iraq and put a government in and
      exploit Iraq's natural resources, like the petroleum, that it could do so
      without opposition.

      And while it is true that, Russia and China didn't interfere with the United
      States going into Iraq in that way, the Iraqi people did. The Iraqi people
      were educated, mobilized. You know, Iraq had had a big pharmaceutical and
      other industries, petrochemicals. They were wired. They were educated, and
      networked. And they inflicted damage on the U.S. military all along the way,
      and it came both from Sunnis and from Shiites. Many Iraqis simply never
      accepted the idea of a foreign occupation of their country, and it failed.

      The Project for a New American Century formulated as a proposition that the
      U.S. could be an empire on the old British model, that you could bring back
      the age of empire in that way. That crashed and burned, because people in
      the Global South are now mobilized, both politically and socially. And it
      was the lack of mobilization in the old 19th century empires, when people
      were 300 people in a village, and they weren't literate, and they weren't
      connected with each other, then maybe the British Empire could exist. But
      that's not the situation anymore. And what I'm saying is that Petraeus was
      sent to these countries by the Project from a New American Century. It was
      the big neoconservative thinkers who thought up these kinds of wars and
      these kinds of projects for occupation and reformulation of entire
      countries. And they are anachronistic. You can't do this anymore. The age of
      the British Empire had passed.

      AMY GOODMAN: And you're saying that the Project for a New American Century
      persisted under President Obama; he didn't change it.

      JUAN COLE: Well, I'm saying that, in some ways, the Afghanistan troop
      escalation or surge was one last iteration of some of that project to try to
      formulate Afghanistan in a way favorable to the United States before we then

      And again, I should be clear, I don't think that that's what President Obama
      wanted. He went to the Pentagon and asked, "Give me three plans," you know,
      an ambitious one, a less ambitious one and a minimal one. And they
      stonewalled him for nine months. And people in Washington were saying,
      "Well, what are you going to do? You're president now. You need a plan." And
      he went back to the Pentagon and said, "Well, where's the plan?" And they
      said, "Well, we've got one for you, but the others are going to take a
      while." So they kind of boxed him in to this troop surge.

      AMY GOODMAN: And Petraeus's role in that?

      JUAN COLE: Petraeus was the one who boxed him in. So, Petraeus got what he
      wanted. But in my view, he got a failed policy.

      AMY GOODMAN: And finally, this day, this weekend, has been very important
      for-not only for one Pakistani 14-year-old girl, but for a nation. Can you
      talk about Malala, what's happening with here, and how that fits into the
      story of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

      JUAN COLE: Well, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by a radical Talib,
      one of the Taliban in Pakistan, because she had become well known for her
      advocacy of girls' education. She was from the Swat Valley in Pakistan. The
      Swat Valley was a place that the Taliban briefly took in 2009, and the
      Pakistani military, partially under the pressure from the Obama
      administration, went into Swat and expelled the Taliban, largely. Of course,
      they're still around somewhat. So, one of them shot Malala. And she
      survived. I think she'll have a slow but successful recovery. Saturday was
      Malala Day all through the world. And in Pakistan, girls came out in
      demonstrations, asking for the right to be educated, all through the
      country. And the U.N. is also putting pressure on the Pakistani government
      to devote more resources to children's education, in general, which the
      Pakistani government is making noises that it may try to do more.

      The way in which this intersects with the story of the United States in the
      region is, first of all, the Afghanistan war, as it was fought by the Bush
      administration with search-and-destroy missions and an attempt to put in
      large numbers of Western troops, radicalized the Afghan population. In 2001,
      when the Taliban fell, Afghans were largely happy about that. The Taliban
      were disliked. But if they were going to have 140,000 Western troops in
      their country, well, a lot of the Pashtuns, in particular, minded that, and
      sort of you had a revival of Taliban sentiment, which then spilled over onto
      northern Pakistan. Now, I think that the U.S. made a big mistake by trying
      to stay in Afghanistan after 2002. It should simply have withdrawn and let
      the Northern Alliance try to make its alliances and govern. And again, this
      idea that the U.S. can occupy these countries successfully militarily and
      reshape them in our image is wrong. A lot of people say, well, the U.S. had
      a responsibility to help Afghan women. And, you know, Gayatri Spivak defined
      "colonialism" as white men saving brown women from brown men. And there's
      Newsweek covers sort of have adverted to this kind of project. What I would
      argue is that if you associate women's liberation, women's education with a
      foreign imperial project, you actually harm it in the eyes of locals. And
      it's much more likely that Malala, this brave, young Pashtun girl, will
      succeed in becoming a symbol and a spearhead for that kind of educational
      project than that Donald Rumsfeld ever would have.

      AMY GOODMAN: Historian Juan Cole. I spoke with him Sunday in Princeton, New
      Jersey, at the 32nd anniversary of the Coalition of Peace Action. Juan Cole
      is a professor of history at the University of Michigan. His most recent
      book is Engaging the Muslim World. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org,
      The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we continue with our Veterans
      Day special. Stay with us.


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