General David Petraeus was confirmed by the Senate yesterday as General Stanley McChrystal's replacement as top commander for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. A demoralized army, an inept Afghan government seen as hopelessly corrupt, increasingly skeptical international partners, a disinterested American public, a report that American taxpayer money has inadvertently been funneled to Afghan warlords, and a new torrent of violence resulting in 100 military casualities over that last month are among the panoply of challenges Petraeus faces when he touches down in Afghanistan.
When President Obama fired McChrystal, he emphatically noted that the decision was about personnel, not policy. That policy is counter-insurgency, often referred to as COIN in military and policy circles, and involves soldiers living among the occupied population in order to foster a sense of security and government legitimacy. Petraeus, a noted military scholar, is perhaps the military's most powerful COIN-ista, as counter-insurgency advocates are nicknamed. The question now is if a policy of COIN can work in Afghanistan.
Petraeus was the architect of the "surge" in Iraq, an application of COIN that some credit with turning around the war in Iraq. However, asNew York Times foreign correspondent Rod Nordland points out, that viewpoint diminishes the importance of the "Sunni awakening"—the moment when the Sunnis in Iraq turned against al-Qaida and began to assume responsibility for their own political future.
A parallel movement does not seem to exist in Afghanistan, Nordland says. And the numerous differences between the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan don't end there. Afghanistan's mountainous terrain, the magnitude of Taliban insurgents, and fewer troops committed to the surge are just a few of the conditions that may hamper replicating circumstances in Iraq.
Nordland reported from Iraq from the beginning of the war through last December and has known Petraeus for years. Has been stationed in Afghanistan since December. While on a brief trip to the States, he stops by our studio to discuss the challenges awaiting Petraeus when he leaves CENTCOM for Afghanistan later this month.
Also, we've been asking our guests this morning what book they recommend for your summer reading list. Rod Nordland says you'll love "Caravans" by James A. Mitchener.