According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll public, opinion has turned sharply against the war in Afghanistan, and a clear majority of Americans believe that the war isn’t worth fighting. Fittingly, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, spoke to a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to assess the situation in the conflict.
What was striking about the testimony of America’s most famous general was the near total commitment of the U.S. military to fighting radical Islam throughout the world. The military viewpoint sharply contrasts with the muddled, obfuscatory responses toward radical Islam on display in last week’s hearing on the radicalization of Muslims.
More than merely echoing the defeatist cries stemming from the anti-war Left, the poll reflects how the Afghan war has become contentious even among traditionally hawkish groups. The reason for this should be apparent. The hysterics on display at the Peter King hearing, the erosion of U.S. economic strength, and the Executive Branch’s narrative over the last few years have all been factors in the weakening of the public commitment to a war in one of the most inhospitable and dangerous places on Earth.
Sen. Carl Levin (D.-Mich.) spoke to Petreaus about the “hammer and anvil” strategy in Iraq. This name comes from the strategy that Alexander the Great used against the Persians to devastating effect. Alexander’s elite, loyal cavalry would rush around the Persian line of battle and attack it from the rear. This would push Persian soldiers into the bristling spears of the highly disciplined Greek hoplites. The result was usually complete and spectacular victory over forces of often far greater numerical superiority.
Levin’s comparison, however, was far removed from the reality of the modern conflict in Afghanistan.
The modern-day anvil that the senator was referring to was the U.S. and coalition armed forces, which compare favorably to any Greek phalanx. Unfortunately, Levin said that the hammer is the Pakistani armed forces. These duplicitous and unreliable “allies” are needed to push Taliban and insurgent soldiers into Afghanistan and the awesome power of the U.S. forces located there. The Pakistani forces are neither elite nor loyal, and have a reputation for turning a blind eye to Taliban activity within their own country.
While the Pakistani forces are untrustworthy, the nation on the other side is outright hostile to U.S. interests. Iran is actively aiding insurgents within the Afghanistan border through military and economic aid. Petreaus mentioned some of the raids that had intercepted highly sophisticated arms from Iranian sources.
The difficult military situation has left U.S. armed forces without the ability to crush the insurgents despite the full commitment to counterinsurgency warfare that Petreaus and his predecessors have advocated. Despite the many near-miraculous successes that U.S. soldiers have had, the overall effort remains an ongoing slog that requires a tremendous amount of civil support.
The military has been using programs like the Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP) to bring immediate fiscal aid to commanders to build local infrastructure. This, of course, means that the United States is nation-building in a country that has precious little to build upon.
Petraeus mentioned that Afghanistan has an illiteracy rate of about 80%. Most training of Afghan military and police forces can bring them up to around the first-grade level. While education and training efforts have been successful, these forces aren’t nearly sufficient to police the countryside. Entirely eliminating terrorist efforts would be nearly impossible for the unsophisticated Afghan National Army.
Worse than the questionable allies and mind-bogglingly complex nation-building strategy is the utter detachment of internal discussion from the war that is being carried on overseas. Unable to mention the ideology that threatens the country on a daily basis—which originally led to U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan—President Obama’s administration has pushed the message that these conflicts are merely police work, an overseas contingency operation.
A President must not only lead through pushing policy and legislation, but must also take the primary role in promoting the nation’s purpose on the international stage. The strategy of appeasing hostile regimes, remaining mum on international crises, and failing to identify the nation’s mortal enemies has led to erosion in public confidence in the military’s most important strategic objectives.
Petreaus may have been right when he said at the hearing, “I strongly believe that our young men and women in uniform, in places like Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere around the world, have more than earned the title New Greatest Generation.” The burden placed on the American military has been immense. If it is to have victory in this war, the American military must act as a hammer against the forces of radical Islam abroad, and the American people must be the hardened anvil on which it is crushed at home.