January 20, 2010
I had the privilege of being a guest of the Atlanta Press Club to hear General Petraeus speak in a largely q and a format. He made no new policy statements and said nothing previously unreported. He addressed how our forces are doing in relation to Al Qaida, recognizing that there are a number of other extremist groups in the picture as well. He was mostly positive about our progress but acknowledged that such progress is not a straight line to victory. He addressed the ethics of the use of drones and was, at the same time, very clear about how our current engagements are “manpower intensive”. He referred to the importance of LPCs or ‘Leather Personnel Carriers’, viz. ‘boots on the ground’. He praised American allies quoting Winston Churchill’s famous adage that ‘the only thing worse than having allies is not having allies.’ He was positive without being effusive about the review process that led President Obama to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan. He addressed the need for troops to be living with the forces they are training and the people they are protecting, recognizing that any such action is a long term exercise in building trust and not a simple ‘military-only’ operation.
It is this last area that most interests me in that I am skeptical that a force that can be characterized as ‘invaders’ (however much there is a consequent government in place who wants us to stay) will ever be a ‘trusted partner’.
The General was quite wordy as a consequence of his broad and deep grasp of his subject matter and an intuitive sense of how so much of what he said was interconnected. He made all the right nods to our troops and to political realities. On the whole I came away with the sense that given we are engaging in military conflict in many parts of the world, mostly in the Central Command of over twenty countries under General Petraeus, that we are in good, thoughtful and sensible hands.