Words of Wisdom from General Petraeus

From Wired’s Danger Room:

Yesterday, at a forum here at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, U.S. Central Command chief General David Petraeus had a message for the Pakistanis: Get over it. These days, your biggest enemy isn’t India. It’s home-grown extremists.

“The biggest of the big ideas with respect to Pakistan is that the existential threat to the country is the internal extremist threat, not the Indians — and that is a pretty big idea,” Petraeus said. “It is an intellectually dislocating idea for the institutions of Pakistan, for the military, for others that have spent — just as we spent decades faced off against the Warsaw Pact and were almost comfortable with that.”

It’s pretty good advice. I can’t imagine that the world would allow for full-scale war at this point in time between India and Pakistan, so it seems relatively pointless to

Gen. David Petraeus

Gen. David Petraeus

continue to mold the military and intelligence services (of Pakistan, especially) around the prospect of such a war. Meanwhile, Zardari’s new government is getting trampled by the Taliban. Time for a strategic realignment of defense spending, indeed. 

One of the great things about Gen. Petraeus is that he seems to have a real intellectual understanding of the tensions that cause both outright and guerilla war. This is about 180 degrees removed from his old neocon bosses in the Bush administration, who didn’t care about or comprehend the importance of using cultural literacy to our advantage. Whereas one might imagine members of the Bush/Cheney axis demanding that Pakistan stop caring about India at once!!!, Petraeus emphasizes the centrality the Indian conflict in Pakistani military policy, realizes that a departure from this worldview will take a while, and knows that slow, even pressure on Zardari is preferable to ultimatums and bluster. Like Obama, Petraeus is optimistic about America’s power to increase not just national but global security. But he’s also a realist, and knows that the truths of foreign affairs don’t always match up with our idealistic expectations. Hopefully Obama and Petraeus can work together to stabilize and withdraw from Iraq and Central Asia as soon (but not too soon) as possible.


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