Dear John: Col. Peters Has a Point—at Least

Yesterday, John Guardiano’s post protesting Col. Ralph Peters’s supposed “cheap shots” at Petraeus, is far more personally pointed than anything Peters said on Bill O’Reilly’s program.

Col. Peters (who supported the “surge” in Iraq) is skeptical about nation building in Afghanistan, correctly pointing out that you can’t “rebuild” something that has never been built.

The key points of Peters’ assertions are undeniably true:

  1. Afghanistan is far different than Iraq when it comes to national identity and having a nation to build much less “rebuild.”
  2. The current Rules of Engagement in Afghanistan were instituted under Petraeus’s watch at CENTCOM.

Whether Peters is right that we need a counterterrorism policy in Afghanistan rather than a counterinsurgency strategy, ala Iraq, is a matter of debate.   He certainly knows more about this stuff than I do—and probably more than John Guardiano.

There is a good case to be made for helping a government succeed in the governable part of Afghanistan and playing whack-a-mole in the rest.

No one in history has ever ruled the current western-drawn borders of Afghanistan from Kabul.  Our primary interest in Afghanistan is not letting it become a staging ground for Islamist terror attacks against American targets.  If that can be accomplished by letting U.S. Special Forces rotate through there to kill bad guys and get their skills sharp, I could live with that.

Maybe Petraeus is right that the COIN (counterinsurgency) strategy can work.  He has earned the chance to prove it.  As Peters said in his interview on The O’Reilly Factor, Petraeus is also a lucky commander—and it’s nice to be lucky and good.