By Carlos Lozada
"Afghanistan does not equal Iraq," Gen. David Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee on June 29, shortly before he was confirmed as the commander of allied forces in the Afghan war.
Pressed into service after Gen. Stanley McChrystal's dismissal, the hero of the Iraq troop surge went on to list many ways the two nations differ: literacy, infrastructure, natural resources and government capacity, among others. "You certainly can't take lessons learned in Iraq and just apply them in a rote manner in Afghanistan," Petraeus explained.
Yet in one arena, at least, Petraeus seems inclined to take his Iraq experience and apply it to Afghanistan in a somewhat rote manner. His July 4 letter to U.S. and NATO troops, issued as he took command in Afghanistan, is strikingly similar to the February 2007 letter he sent to troops in Iraq upon taking charge of that war. In both cases, it is a "critical time"; the locals are our "comrades" and "partners"; the enemy is "barbaric" and is out to "shake the confidence" of the country's people; coalition actions against them must be "relentless." And in both letters, Petraeus pledges his commitment to the mission of helping build a "brighter future" for each country. (Such letters from top brass tend to be tacked up in command posts and common areas where soldiers can read them.)
So, did the general draw on his Iraq letter to draft the Afghanistan one? "I did, indeed, pull out the letter from last time," Petraeus said in an e-mail. "However, needless to say, the situations are different in various respects, and I thus sought to emphasize particular themes appropriate to Afghanistan. Having said that, the situation in each case was pivotal. And I sought to convey that."
Petraeus added a more logistical reason for the parallels: "Such letters always have to be a single page."