Leaving Afghanistan Was a Strategic Error — Ex-CIA Chief Petraeus

I think the withdrawal from Afghanistan undermined deterrence but didn't enable Russia. The US has led a formidable response in support of Ukraine.

2 mins read
General David Petraeus, former director of the CIA [Screengrab]

This interview with General David Petraeus, former director of the CIA, covers various past and present global conflicts, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Gaza, and the future of US-China relations. General Petraeus is the Kissinger Fellow at Yale’s Jackson School of Global Affairs, the Chair of the Global Institute of a major investment firm, and a former director of the CIA. The interview was conducted by Alexis Papazoglou of the Institute of Art and Ideas.

Excerpts from the Interview;

Alexis Papazoglou (AP):  You had one of the most distinguished military careers in the US military, culminating with you being the director of the CIA. What made you choose a career in the military?

David Petraeus (DP): I enjoyed the variety and challenges of the military. I went to West Point, where three elements are emphasized: academics, physical fitness, and leadership. I excelled in all three areas, which led me to pursue a military career. I enjoyed the intellectual and physical aspects of military life. Over time, I was allowed to go to graduate school at Princeton and earn a PhD in international relations and economics, even though I was an infantry officer. I taught those courses at West Point and balanced physically demanding leadership assignments with vantage point jobs, such as being an aide to the chief of staff of the US Army and a speechwriter for the Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

AP: How do you feel about the legacy of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars?

DP: With respect to Afghanistan, I think we had to go in; it was a war of necessity. We eliminated the Al-Qaeda sanctuary and kept it eliminated for 20 years. There were significant accomplishments, such as opportunities for women. However, the decision to withdraw was a mistake, leading to a psychological collapse of the Afghan security forces and a return to a very conservative interpretation of Islam.

In Iraq, it was more of a war of choice. We had successes and failures. The surge reduced violence by 90%, but the situation deteriorated after our final combat forces withdrew, leading to the reconstitution of Al-Qaeda as the Islamic State.

AP: Some argue that the perceived military failures in Afghanistan and Iraq enabled Russia to invade Ukraine. Do you agree?

DP: I think the withdrawal from Afghanistan undermined deterrence but didn’t enable Russia. The US has led a formidable response in support of Ukraine. We should be doing even more to help Ukraine retake its territory, not just stabilize the lines. The commitment of $61 billion is very substantial, and Ukraine needs to generate additional forces and make advances in technology.

AP: Regarding the Israel-Gaza conflict, the US has been one of Israel’s greatest allies. Why do you think Israel is not fully heeding US advice?

DP: Israel’s imperative is to destroy Hamas, which is irreconcilable and has to be destroyed. However, the strategy should be to clear, hold, and build, not just clear and leave. They need to hold the areas they clear to prevent Hamas from reconstituting. It’s crucial to minimize innocent civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.

AP: Should the US continue to supply Israel with military and intelligence aid if Israel ignores the International Court of Justice?

DP: Israel’s imperative is to destroy Hamas, but they must do so in a way that limits civilian casualties. The US and Israel need to adopt a comprehensive civil-military counterinsurgency campaign, not a conventional military campaign. We need to observe international laws and ensure operations take more bad guys off the street than they create.

AP: On the topic of China and Taiwan, how should the US direct its attention?

DP: The most important relationship in the world is between the US, its allies, and China. We need to ensure deterrence is rock-solid without being needlessly provocative. We should establish guardrails on the relationship and agree on some issues like climate change. It will be a fierce competition, and we need to be prepared for that.

Click here to watch the Complete Interview

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