Saturday, September 27, 2008

Obama on the Iraq War and the Petraeus Doctrine

Dear General Petraeus,

Did you like being the center of attention, for a while the other night, during the presidential debates?

The guys had lots to say about you in the midst of the back and forth about Iraq.

It seems to me, and tell me if I'm right, that Barack Obama is a proponent of a new kind of engagement as a backdrop to his practical policies about Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Al Qaida, and the war on terror generally. That backdrop is one that is partly expressed when he speaks of being open sitting down and talking to other world leaders with preparation but without preconditions. He is saying, that in the 21st century we must explore new avenues of diplomacy. McCain accuses Obama of being naive. But it isn't naivete is it, General Petraeus? It is a recognition that the Powell doctrine* of the late 20th century has died. The Petraeus doctrine has arrived.

Both McCain and Obama seem to acknowledge your importance. But I think that they appreciate different things. McCain wants to say, "Hah, the surge worked. Military might really does work." But his understanding is hearkening back to the Powell doctrine. Obama says instead, and perhaps with more understanding than McCain of the Petraeus doctrine, "Hm.m.m, the surge cannot be a surge of might. It is instead a surge of cultural engagement." Embracing some of the new thinking from military philosophers such as John Nagl, Obama accepts that events such as those of 9/11, “conclusively demonstrated that instability anywhere can be a real threat to the American people here at home.” For the foreseeable future, political conditions abroad rather than specific military threats will pose the greatest danger to the United States.

General Petraeus, have you seen this video? It will take about eight minutes, but I think it is eloquent.

When Obama does sometimes sidestep the question of "winning" the war in Iraq, he is acknowledging that traditional military victory is secondary to the greater necessity of instituting diplomatic scaffolding that will maintain lasting stability throughout the region.

The Atlantic Monthly states,
"According to the emerging Petrae­us Doctrine, the Army (like it or not) is entering an era in which armed conflict will be protracted, ambiguous, and continuous—with the application of force becoming a lesser part of the soldier’s repertoire."

Instability creates ungoverned spaces in which violent anti-American radicals thrive. Yet if instability anywhere poses a threat, then ensuring the existence of stability everywhere—denying terrorists sanctuary in rogue or failed states—becomes a national-security imperative. Define the problem in these terms, and winning battles becomes less urgent than pacifying populations and establishing effective governance.

War in this context implies not only coercion but also social engineering. As Nagl puts it, the security challenges of the 21st century will require the U.S. military “not just to dominate land operations, but to change entire societies.”

. . . enabling the Army, he writes, “to get better at building societies that can stand on their own.” That means buying fewer tanks while spending more on language proficiency; curtailing the hours spent on marksmanship ranges while increasing those devoted to studying foreign cultures. It also implies changing the culture of the officer corps. An Army that since Vietnam has self-consciously cultivated a battle-oriented warrior ethos will instead emphasize, in Nagl’s words, “the intellectual tools necessary to foster host-nation political and economic development.”
We are living in a very different world from the one that predated the global society. Even the lessons of Vietnam don't quite apply, do they? To effectively maintain just and decent leadership in this world, we cannot afford to place all of our hopes on the gun, on the bomb, on the power of power. We must seek a new solution. That is what Barack Obama is saying when he calls for an end to the military engagement in Iraq.

Could you say that too? Would you serve him as your commander-in-chief?


Link to Obama on Iraq from Presidential debates

*The Powell Doctrine held that military force should only be used if there was a clear risk to national security; that the force used should be overwhelming; and that the operation must have strong public support and a clear exit strategy.


cadh 8 said...

Interesting post. You went at it at a different angle, and I am glad that you explained some of the "Patraeus doctrine". I think that the shift that the troop surge and what has happened recently in Iraq is an important aspect of what is going on in the war. It is the mental effort--winning the hearts and minds, if you will--that we needed to plan for from the start. But the problems remains so complex when dealing with another culture and so many different factions.
I am a bit nervous that Obama is "naive" to quote McCain about this whole "sitting down and talking it out" thing. I saw Ahmadinejad watching troops on parade in a news clip this weekend. As the troops struttend by one could harly miss the Hitler comparison. We tried diplomacy with him, too.
I digress, but will have my Iraq post up soon. Your post gives me a couple days leave to let my ideas simmer a bit more. Such a touch subject! I wish I had paid more attention back in 2001-2005.

cadh 8 said...

OK, I just re-read my post. In my defense i am at work and trying to get my comment in quickly, but GOOD GRIEF. I sound like a third grader and spelled like a second grader. But i think maybe you can figure out what I meant. Sorry about that! At least I spelled Ahmadinejad right, but I had to look it up...

brd said...

A different angle. And perhaps I don't have it quite right. I do think that Obama's desire for diplomacy will make for a leader who will not lead us to war unnecessarily. And, Iraq was unnecessary. That much is sure.

brd said...

Spelling? Who ever said blog comments had to be spelled carictly.