Whether Gen. David Petraeus fainted upon receiving travel orders to Afghanistan—as he did in last week’s Senate hearings—is not clear from the news reports, but President Obama managed a double-whammy by replacing Gen. Stanley McChrystal with the “king of the conservative lecture circuit,” as the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg dubbed the ambitious general.
During the past month Petraeus has addressed annual dinners of the American Enterprise Institute (which gave him the Irving Kristol Award), Commentary magazine (where he fielded softball questions from admirer Max Boot), and the Hudson Institute. He has received resounding endorsements from the commentariat at National Review and Commentary.
And he will dig himself into a hole in Afghanistan. When the enterprise collapses, Obama will say in effect, “What are you complaining about? I sent your guy in, and he screwed up!” Obama is a disaster at foreign policy and economics, but he’s still the spinmaster.
Petraeus became a hero of the American right by turning the Iraqi quagmire into what appeared to be a stalement, by putting 100,000 Sunni gunmen on the payroll of the American army in the celebrated “surge” strategy.
In other words, he did what the derivatives traders of Wall Street did during 2007: front-load the bottom-line revenues and backload the risk. America paid, organized and armed the “Sunni Awakening” to the point that Iraq now has Muslim sectarian militias with roughly equal manpower and armaments, ready to re-enact the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s on Iraqi soil as soon as the Americans leave.
One doesn’t get promoted at the Pentagon, or for that matter on Wall Street, by telling the boss to sacrifice this quarter’s results in order to address a looming disaster in the long term. Petraeus pulled the Bush administration’s chestnuts out of the fire, as well as the reputations of conservatives who signed on to the COIN (for “counterinsurgency”) strategy of turning the American military into a Peace Corps with guns.
Afghanistan is different. Hiring the locals with bags of money is far more difficult for a number of reasons. One is that there is no clear sectarian division; the Iraqi Sunnis had every incentive to take the American paychecks and stockpile weapons for the inevitable confrontation with the Iran-supported Shi’ites. In Afghanistan, tribal leaders will take American money one day and shoot at the Marines the next.
There are several reasons America can’t win the Afghan war. One is that Pakistan’s intelligence services continue to provide refuge and support for the Taliban. America is going to leave, and the Taliban will stay, and they want to keep the fundamentalist thuggery in place as an instrument against India. Threats and bribes can’t persuade Pakistan to stop. The only way to keep Pakistan in line is to terrify it, and the way to do that is to involve India in the Afghanistan campaign in a big way.
There is a way to do it, and it isn’t pleasant. My proposal last December was that a hegemonic United States do several things. First, it should invite New Delhi to increase its role in Afghanistan—which the Russians emphatically support—and make clear to Islamabad that the consequences of a shift toward radical Islam will be to leave Pakistan at the mercy of India. America would also dictate to India a conciliatory policy toward China, including an empty dance card for the Dalai Lama and consideration for Chinese interests in Nepal and Myanmar.
Second, it would persuade China to throw its Pakistani ally under the bus, in return for assurances of Indian good behavior, as well as other incentives (access to U.S. technology, for example). We would assure China that the United States will not take advantage of its troubles with the Uighurs in Xinjiang or any other Chinese ethnic minority—and that it will police such allies as Turkey with respect to such problems.
Third, America would crush Iran’s imperial ambitions in the region, both to protect American allies such as Saudi Arabia and to eliminate a potential existential threat to Pakistan, as well as remove a claim to legitimacy for radical Sunni Islamists. Finally, the country would assure Russia that matters pertaining to its “near abroad” from Ukraine to Kyrgyzstan will be given appropriate consideration.
As the Asia Times’ M.K. Bhadrahumar wrote last October that India
an do a lot to help the U.S. and NATO in such a scenario by training the militia operating under the ‘warlords’ and also providing them with weapons. In sum, without military deployment in Afghanistan, Delhi has the capacity to play a decisive role in crushing the Taliban insurgency, which is what makes the Pakistani military establishment extremely anxious in the developing political scenario on the Afghan chessboard.
The above strategy will not stabilize the region; it will turn the inherent instability of the region to America’s advantage. The keys to success is an alliance with India, the world’s largest democracy, as well as tough unilateralism in neutralizing Iran.
David P. Goldman is senior editor of First Things. His proposal can be found in Life and premature death of Pax Obamicana. Goldberg’s remark can be found in General Petraeus, King of the Conservative Lecture Circuit and Bhadrahumar’s in Pakistan warns India to ‘back off’.