Gen. David H. Petraeus is an impressive figure. At a lecture that he gave yesterday in London under the auspices of Policy Exchange, a conservative think tank, he came across as level-headed, modest, and with a sense of humor. The audience was on his side, even the BBC sourpusses were not making their expected faces of disapproval at being addressed by the head of Central Command. General Petraeus made the point that Central Command covers the critical area where Islamism is trying to claim the allegiance of the local people, all 530 million of them, potentially a massive threat to the West, its interests and its societies. Counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism are linked, the general emphasised, in fact here are two sides of the same Islamist coin. We are in for the long haul, there are no quick fixes. We have to prove to the populations involved that their lives will be better, safer, under our dispensation than under the extremists and Islamists. That’s more or less the case in Iraq, where daily attacks have diminished from 160 to 20. Afghanistan and Pakistan are really one problem, and although “significant damage” has been done to extremists, we can’t yet be sure they won’t once again be able to establish sanctuaries, what with corruption, the marred election, the shaky infrastructure. As for Iran, he said that its “malign activities” are helping us to recruit friends and allies in need of protection.
I came away heartened, only to learn that President Obama has decided to cancel the shield planned for Poland and the Czech Republic against Iranian long-range missiles. This decision is a tremendous boost for the malign activities of Iran, and it scrubs 20 years of progress in building alliances in central and eastern Europe. The Poles and the Czechs receive a slap in the face. They and the neighbouring Ukrainians are left to the mercy of Russia. The Russia of Putin and Medvedev, in contrast, can conclude that its artificially manufactured opposition to the missile shield — indeed its whole policy of aggressive nationalism — pays rich dividends. Sanctions against Iran is the overriding issue of the moment, but if Obama believes that the Russians are now more likely to join in such sanctions he is likely to be greatly disappointed. They’ve discovered that a hard line makes Obama fold up, so why should they give him anything when they already obtain what they want so easily? Besides, they have just been caught smuggling weapons to Iran and are accused of selling to that country the most effective anti-aircraft missiles. The Kremlin must be full of mocking laughter.
George W. Bush is reported by one of his speech writers as saying about Obama before he was elected, “This is a dangerous world, and this cat isn’t remotely qualified to handle it.” That has the ring of an obituary. If only General Petraeus was in the White House.