General David H. Petraeus Speaks on Tech Campus

General Petraeus addresses a full house in the Ferst Center

Speaking on topics from Afghanistan to Yemen, Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Central Command, spoke to a full house in the Ferst Center on January 19.

General Petraeus Meets with Tech President
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U.S. CENTCOM Commander General David H. Petraeus meets with Georgia Tech President G. P. "Bud" Peterson and College of Engineering Dean Don Giddens during his visit to campus January 19.

Presented in a mostly question-and-answer format, the “conversation” was moderated by Sam Nunn School of International Affairs Associate Professor Adam N. Stulberg. After leading the discussion with questions, Stulberg turned the lecture over to Tech students, who had lined up to pose their own questions. Attendees also included Tech faculty and staff, members of the community, former Sen. Sam Nunn, U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey and Georgia General Assembly members.

“I stand here representing 200,000 men and women in uniform, and tens of thousands of civilian employees,” Petraeus said, after also recognizing fellow members of the West Point Class of 1974 in the audience. “It is an honor to serve with them.”

Petraeus gave a quick but comprehensive overview of current operations in Afghanistan and a look back at Iraq before and after a 20,000-troop surge in 2007. He said incidents of violence have increased in intensity yearly since initial defeat of Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan. “I remember telling [then-Defense] Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld in 2005 that ‘Afghanistan would the longest of the long wars,’” he said. “Our major objective [in Afghanistan] is to remove the Taliban expansion … to begin a transition in 2011 to Afghan forces.”

He spoke on how things have changed in conducting modern military campaigns. “It’s not just about planting flags,” he said. Al Qaeda, he said, is more than just a group of terrorists: It is an advanced network, and must be fought as such.

To do so, he outlined Central Command’s “Anaconda” strategy in dealing with Al Qaeda, adding that counter terrorist forces are working to squeeze all aspects of that network. By uniting intelligence efforts, working to improve education and jobs programs in Iraq and Afghanistan, and boosting interagency cooperation, constant pressure will be applied to each part of the organization.

Petraeus addressed questions on U.S. relations and involvement with Pakistan and Yemen. “We have a ‘trust-deficit’ in Pakistan,” he said. “We have left Pakistan twice in the past, and must amend that by building relationships. It will take a sustained investment.” He responded to a statement by Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman that “Yemen will be tomorrow’s war,” by saying Central Commend has been focused on Yemen for a couple of years now. “It’s important we build relationships.”

When asked to compare the current situation in Afghanistan with Vietnam, Petraeus answered that he would avoid making comparisons. “The most important lesson in history is that every situation is unique,” he said. “The key to [achieving success] is recognizing those unique elements.“ In comparing Afghanistan with Iraq, he noted several challenges: Iraq has a more urban landscape and education is more accessible, while Afghanistan is more rural, with an increased importance on the roles of tribes in society.

He responded to a question from audience members about his experience in earning his master’s and doctoral degrees from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “I learned in graduate school that there were people—who were extremely intelligent—who held different views from mine,” he said. “I wanted to know why. It really helped me in Iraq. Not everybody sees the world from the same scenery, [a position] that needs to be developed by those of us in the military.”

Although he chose not to discuss any “hypothetical” situation regarding reports of Iran’s increasing involvement in developing nuclear weapons, he did say there was a level of discontent and protest within the country not seen in recent years.

While some were peacefully handing out protest flyers and other information, there were no outbursts or interruptions of the general’s lecture. Roughly half-way through, a handful of protestors wearing T-shirts reading “Say No to Endless War” stood up and faced the audience. When venue security told them they could either sit down or leave, all quietly left the auditorium.

The lecture was sponsored by the Center for International Strategy, Technology and Policy (CISTP), the interdisciplinary policy research arm of the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, and The Colonel Leslie Callahan Memorial Endowment, established by former Industrial and Systems Engineering Professor Col. Leslie Callahan.