Friday, September 2, 2011

A generalís wisdom

Gen. David H. Petraeus retired this week, and he advised against budget cuts that would hollow out the military as they did following the Vietnam War.

It's a warning that American leaders should take to heart in the midst of their headlong rush to strip the federal budget of both good spending and bad. Of course, as the newly appointed head of the Central Intelligence Agency, Petraeus will be around to press the point for awhile, and he should.

After 10 weary years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans are rightly sick of war and its debilitating and deadly demands. We want to bring our troops home and see hostilities end forever. But in a world populated by disgruntled groups that believe terrorism is the answer to whatever beef they may have with Western nations, that's going to be impossible.

The horrible reality brought home to Americans by 9/11 was that in order to live in peace, we must be prepared to wage war. We must study and understand the history, sociology, strategies and tactics of war in all of its forms, which change as societies and technology change.

Without such understanding and without a willingness to act in our own defense, we would risk becoming sitting ducks for the demonically disgruntled.

Petraeus was an agent of change in the military who will be remembered not only as an effective leader, but also as the man who updated the Army's counterinsurgency manual. He championed the idea that modern warfare requires more than drones, stealth aircraft and bunker-busters. He rightly insisted that the military must understand how different societies operate, how their leaders think and what appeal terrorism holds for them.

He successfully argued that achieving peace requires outreach to practical, peace-loving people in foreign communities as well as a good supply of engineers who can turn on the lights and get the water running. He taught us that weaponry alone will not make peace because peace takes people working together.

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