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To what extent, if any, should we use the change of command in Afghanistan to make a clear-eyed assessment of tactics and strategy? The situation in Afghanistan is about as tenuous as things were in Iraq when General Petraeus turned things around. If anyone can pull this off, it is General David Petraeus.
That being said, is it time to revisit the Rules Of Engagement? In today’s New York Times, Bob Herbert quotes one Army Sergeant’s frustration with the current ROE:
“I wish we had generals who remembered what it was like when they were down in a platoon. Either they never have been in real fighting, or they forgot what it was like.”
Scattered reports indicate that General Petraeus will review this “Courageous Restraint” business. Back when the current crop of flag officers was chewing mud in Vietnam, they too operated under an absurd labrynth of rules that effectively had them fighting with one arm tied behind their backs while the enemy continued to ignore all the rules, thereby gaining yet another set of advantages over our troops. Have they forgotten their buddies who were sacrificed on the alter of a hearts and minds campaign that won neither of the two? This approach wasn’t called “Courageous Restraint” back then, though the terms the troops used for it remain unprintable here.
Hearts and minds typically follow the victor. Germany and Japan both experienced a Rodney King epiphany after their decisive defeat in WWII, and decided that we could indeed all get along. While I trust General Petraeus, I hope he will revisit the ROE currently imposed on our troops and give them the green light to protect themselves and kill the bad guys, which after all, is what fighting a war is about.
Americans are not blood thirsty. We don’t go searching for a fight. We love our freedom and our families too much to see either of them endangered on a whim. But once we are attacked, as we were on 9/11, we unleash war, sending the very best of us to defend the homeland. When our sons, daughters, brothers and fathers are in harm’s way, for heavens sake, take the gloves off and let them fight! Our troops are professional warriors, not javelin catchers.