David Petraeus, now CIA director, had some gloomy answers in response to a recent New York Times interview with Roger Cohen:
He told me that, as Libya illustrates, the United States is no longer “eager to get all the way in on the ground”; and that “We have long since recognized that the ideal situation in the fight against extremists, against terrorists is first and foremost to provide intelligence to the host nation.” Then, “if they cannot act on it, help them develop the ability to do it for themselves.”
As for “actually doing it ourselves,” that must be a “much more remote option.”
A decade of fighting has slashed the U.S. appetite for war. It eats cash, costs lives and these days there’s never a victory parade. That “much more remote option” struck me as the politic Petraeus version of the Robert Gates Pentagon-exit credo: “Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.”
These statements by Petraeus suggest that the U.S. combat phase of the Long War is over, ending in strategic defeat. Drone attacks, secret Special Forces raids, and training of mercenary armies is sure to continue, a return to low-visibility warfare. While the peace movement will be challenged to effectively oppose secret military interventions with few if any American casualties, the greater difficulty is for the US to succeed in imposing unpopular and repressive regimes on hostile populations.
In any event, the current land wars are far from over, though the American combat role is being phased out. Petraeus, the CIA and the Pentagon are in retreat – or better, redeployment – to their secret sanctuaries.