For example, U.S. General David Petraeus, the new commander of CENTCOM, the military command responsible for both Iraq and Afghanistan, seems convinced that arming the tribes is a great idea. Gen. Petraeus is an incredibly smart man—as reported countless times, he wrote his Princeton dissertation on counterinsurgency, and his ideas about counterinsurgency as commander of U.S. forces in Iraq have helped conditions there improve over the last two years. But as Spencer Ackerman recently reported, the current push to arm tribal militias in Afghanistan seems out of step with those who are closest to the country. In December, it seemed the preference for tribal militias was overriding the concerns of both General David McKiernan (who openly expressed skepticism of the idea in October), the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who just three weeks ago was similarly critical of the idea.
None of this means that arming the tribes is necessarily the wrong idea. And it is to Gen. Petraeus’ great credit that he has backed away from the thought that ideas and tactics can be exported from Iraq to Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the discussion of how to proceed in Afghanistan is increasingly dominated by thinkers and soldiers who made their names in Iraq, and the theme of exporting good ideas from Iraq into Afghanistan is almost universal in their op-eds, speeches, and magazine profiles. That doesn’t mean their ideas are necessarily wrong; it just means they seem not to have done enough homework yet to be controlling U.S. policy. But, it seems the journalists who cover them (with a few notable exceptions) haven’t done their homework, either. The result (for now, at least) is a very public discussion about repeating a failed policy—surely the one thing Afghanistan does not need.