David Petraeus

By Zakaria, Fareed | Newsweek, January 4, 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

David Petraeus


Zakaria, Fareed, Newsweek


Byline: Fareed Zakaria

The general whose surge turned the tide in Iraq--and who aims to do the same in Afghanistan--may hold the fate of Obama's presidency in his hands.

Zakaria: In 2003, after the fall of Baghdad, you were placed in northern Iraq, in Mosul, commanding the 101st Airborne Division. And you decided that you needed to fight the war in a different way.

Petraeus: It was very clear early on that we, the military, were going to have to do the nation building. People occasionally ask, "What were the big decisions you made in Iraq?" The biggest decision I made early on in Iraq that I announced--to a little bit of stunned silence from the commanders--was that we [were] going to do nation building.

Using those words? Because the Bush administration up to that point had specifically denounced nation building. Condoleezza Rice wrote an article in Foreign Affairs saying that the 82nd Airborne should not be assisting kids to go to school.

Using those words. As a card-carrying member of the Council on Foreign Relations, with my Foreign Affairs subscription up to date, I was keenly aware of the Rice essay, but I had done a fair amount of nation building during my life in various forms: Central America, in Haiti as a chief of operations for the U.N. force there, in the Balkans.

When President Obama talked about Afghanistan in his Dec. 1 speech, he didn't advocate "nation building." When I and a few others had lunch with him, he specifically said, "We're not going to do nation building."

Certainly we are doing elements of nation building [in Afghanistan]. It's inescapable. In a counterinsurgency campaign, even one that is more narrowly focused as a result of this process [of reviewing the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan],--inevitably you are going to perform tasks that are elements of nation building. It might be more effective if we just, out loud, said, "We're not trying to turn Afghanistan into Switzerland; we're not trying to make it into an advanced, Western, industrialized democracy in the next few years." What the president is trying to convey is, again, limitations on our aspirations, and what it is we're trying to accomplish. I think that's reasonable. One of the outcomes of this presidential review was a pretty realistic appraisal of what is possible, what is doable; and that should be an important element that informs one's strategy.

I told the president something to the effect of, "Seems like what you're describing is in some tension with General Petraeus's counterinsurgency manual, which is more explicitly about nation building." And he said, "You should ask General Petraeus, because he supports this approach."

I fully support it; I really support the president's decision. I think that what he is trying to convey, having had the benefit of 10 multiple-hour sessions and the final session in the Oval Office with him, is that there are distinct limits on our activities, and distinct limits on our goals and objectives for Afghanistan.

What is the central lesson of counterinsurgency?

"Secure the population." To be truthful, we would have been happy to hand this off to civilians [in Iraq]. We really wanted to. I kept asking, "Where is the team from ORHA [the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, which was set up to handle the post-hostilities phase in 2003]?" Then ultimately, when the individuals from CPA [the Coalition Provisional Authority] arrived, eventually we got [on the ground] three or four CPA officials who actually were fantastic. One of them was a fluent Arabic and Kurdish speaker; [she] was terrific. But there's only so much that one person can do, and we had a force of 25,000 or so, with four engineer battalions, two signal battalions, and two civil-affairs battalions.

It struck me that because of the way we handled things in Iraq, the United States was taking on not just nation building but also a very large social-engineering project.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

David Petraeus
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?