THE BLOG
07/19/2010 11:29 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Have Guns, Will Travel

Is Congress willing to keep financing wars like the ongoing one in Afghanistan in perpetuity? Gen. David Petraeus, Congress' military darling, sounds like he is counting on it. Just read what he said at his June 29 confirmation hearing with no senator bothering to draw him out on the implications of his statement for the United States generally and the American military specifically:

"We cannot allow al-Qaida or other transitional extremist ele- ments to once again establish sanctuaries from which they can launch attacks on our homeland or on our allies. ... It is going to be a number of years before Afghan forces can truly handle the secu- rity tasks in Afghanistan on their own."

Would Petraeus therefore recommend to President Obama that he send American troops into Yemen or any other country on the planet if terrorist groups decided Afghanistan had become too hot for them, folded up their tents and set up training camps and crude bomb factories elsewhere? "Have guns, will travel" seems to be Petraeus' M.O.

Is the present Petraeus effort to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people therefore just one battle in an endless war against terrorism? If so, why are allies like Germany and the Netherlands, who are closer to the terrorist hotspots than the United States, pulling in their horns and taking troops out of Afghanistan rather than sending more in?

What if leaders of al-Qaida and the Taliban imitate their North Vietnamese and Vietcong forbearers and go all-out to launch their version of a Tet Offensive to turn more Americans and lawmakers against the war in Afghanistan? I helped cover the Tet Offensive for The Washington Post in 1968 and came to realize that it was a military defeat for our then-enemies but a huge psychological victory for them. Members of the House told me at the time that they were shocked to see pictures of the bad guys right inside the U. S. Embassy in Saigon after being assured by the White House and Pentagon that this would never happen.

What will Obama and Petraeus, his new commander of the war in Afghanistan, do if the money-hungry leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan work out a deal with the bad guys and tribal leaders and demand that American troops leave their countries?

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin is at the forefront of those in Congress who want to hand the Afghan war over to Afghan forces as soon as possible. Afghanization of the war is his stated objective. But like the South Vietnamese before them, Afghanization looks to most Afghans surveyed like depending on the foxes to guard the chickens, as was often the case with Vietnamization.

I was in Danang in 1972 with translator Chuck Benoit when Vietnamization was in full swing. South Vietnamese civilians told us it was frighteningly common for South Vietnamese soldiers and cops to back up their trucks to private houses in the middle of the night, break in, carry the family's furniture into the trucks and drive away.

On Thursday, The Washington Post published the results of polling by Integrity Watch Afghanistan, which indicated Afghans see their police and judges as the most corrupt officials in their entire government, especially in rural areas.

The Post story quotes Lorenzo Delesgues, co-director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan, as saying this about corruption in Afghanistan: "It has become a phenomenon that is more widespread and really institutionalized. It has become easier for people to get away with corruption." Afghan corruption is stinging salt being thrown into the physical and mental wounds of American and NATO troopers fighting and dying in Afghanistan, as well as their families. Especially their families.

How does Petraeus' "have guns, will travel" philosophy on combating terrorism, wherever it sprouts, square with Obama's statement on page 23 of his recently issued "National Security Strategy" white paper about the greatest danger Americans face? Obama or somebody working for him wrote this: "The American people face no greater or more urgent danger than a terrorist attack with a nuclear weapon." If such a horror should occur, who would respond to treat the victims if the state's National Guard units were not home but fighting terrorists overseas?

If Obama or his successor, as well as Congress buys into Petraeus' go-anywhere approach to fighting terrorism, we would have to expand the active duty military beyond the 1.4 million men and women out there now.

By the Pentagon's admission, we had active-duty military people in 150 foreign countries in 2009. On top of them, we have an unknown number of shadowy military and CIA operatives abroad with U. S. government licenses to kill. Does Congress, which the Founding Fathers empowered to provide for "the common defense," know about them? Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would label me as "one of those quagmire guys." And he would be right. I see how Obama got into Afghanistan. I don't see how he's going to get out with honor.

This post originally appeared in Congress Daily.