Quotes of the day

The attack offered a glimpse of the Obama administration’s shadow war against Al Qaeda and its allies. In roughly a dozen countries — from the deserts of North Africa, to the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics crippled by ethnic and religious strife — the United States has significantly increased military and intelligence operations, pursuing the enemy using robotic drones and commando teams, paying contractors to spy and training local operatives to chase terrorists…

While the stealth war began in the Bush administration, it has expanded under President Obama, who rose to prominence in part for his early opposition to the invasion of Iraq. Virtually none of the newly aggressive steps undertaken by the United States government have been publicly acknowledged. In contrast with the troop buildup in Afghanistan, which came after months of robust debate, for example, the American military campaign in Yemen began without notice in December and has never been officially confirmed…

Yet such wars come with many risks: the potential for botched operations that fuel anti-American rage; a blurring of the lines between soldiers and spies that could put troops at risk of being denied Geneva Convention protections; a weakening of the Congressional oversight system put in place to prevent abuses by America’s secret operatives; and a reliance on authoritarian foreign leaders and surrogates with sometimes murky loyalties…

“For the first time in our history, an entity has declared a covert war against us,” Mr. Smith said, referring to Al Qaeda. “And we are using similar elements of American power to respond to that covert war.”

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MR. GREGORY: Let me talk about U.S. troops. I asked you before, when we talked about this July deadline of next year, how stifling is the, the concept of this deadline and this Washington debate to what you’re trying to do here?

GEN. PETRAEUS: I don’t find it that stifling. I’m not bowed over by, you know, the knowledge that July 2011 is out there. In fact, the president has been very clear, Vice President Biden’s been very clear as well, more recently, that this is a date when a process begins that is conditions based. And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and to security forces and, and in various governmental institutions, and that enables a “responsible drawdown of our forces”…

Let me point out one other item about July 2011 if I could. Because what I have often noted was that in the speech that the president made at West Point, there were two messages. One was a message of substantial additional commitment, additional 30,000 troops, again more civilians, more funding for Afghan forces, authorization of 100,000 more of them and so forth; but also a message of increased urgency. And that’s what July 2011 really connotes. It is to all the participants, those in Kabul, some of us in uniform, again our civilian counterparts, that we’ve got to get on with this, that this has been going on for some nine years or so, that there is understandable concern, in some cases frustration, and that, therefore, we’ve got to really put our shoulder to the wheel and show during the course of this year that progress can be achieved. And, and, again, one manifestation of that is out there that you have this date.

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General Petraeus is a military leader with great commitment and great intellectual rigor, but you have to wonder whether he has enough time politically to achieve what he thinks is possible here. President Bush told people privately before leaving office that succeeding here in Afghanistan would be vastly more difficult than even Iraq. And here we are, still fighting in what General Petraeus said himself five years ago would be the longest campaign in the long war.

The question now for the American public is whether it has the stomach and the will to do what it takes to succeed here, and whether it has the stomach for what could happen here if the U.S. and its allies fail.

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