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In These Times - August 16, 2021

The horrific culmination of the 20-year U.S. occupation of Afghanistan should be cause for sober reflection on the imperial hubris and bipartisan pro-war consensus that enabled such a ruinous military intervention to grind on for so long. But instead of a reckoning, the very architects of the war are getting the final word on its legacy — a kafkaesque conclusion to a remarkably cruel chapter of history. This dynamic adds fresh insult to the disastrous conditions Afghans now face, as the Taliban seizes control of Afghanistan, and the United States implements callous closed-door policies toward people attempting to flee the country, leading to ghastly scenes at Kabul airport.

Chief among these figures is General David Petraeus, who is notable for the skill with which he has charmed and worked the media throughout his long career. He is putting that skill to use now, garnering headline after headline after headline braying for a continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. ​“This is an enormous national security setback and it is on the verge of getting much worse unless we decide to take really significant action,” he told the Rita Cosby Show on WABC Radio on August 13. That same day, in an interview with NPR, he advocated for the United States to reverse its withdrawal. ​“I certainly would do that in the short term, and I would certainly consider it for the mid and long term,” he said.

In that NPR interview, Petraeus cited his own role as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011 to illustrate his expertise. ​“Well, we weren’t contemplating a withdrawal when I was doing this,” he proclaimed. ​“We had 150,000 coalition forces when I was privileged to command, U.S. and all other forces in Afghanistan.”

The declaration is notable because Petraeus oversaw a particularly bloody chapter of the Afghanistan War. After replacing General Stanley McChrystal, Petraeus implemented an aggressive counterinsurgency strategy, and loosened the rules of engagement, giving U.S. troops a wider berth to fire artillery, and to destroy houses and buildings. He also significantly increased the notorious practice of conducting night raids on Afghan homes. As Michael Hastings noted of Petraeus in 2011 for Rolling Stone, ​“He drastically upped the number of airstrikes, launching more than 3,450 between July and November, the most since the invasion in 2001.” 

But Petraeus didn’t just implement these policies. He also launched a charm offensive, holding interviews with numerous major media outlet championing his actions, and even publicly challenging the Obama administration’s planned withdrawal timeline. ...
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