THE BIG IDEA: It’s not just Republican senators any more. From his perch outside the White House, Stephen K. Bannon is now picking fights with the foreign policy establishment.
David Petraeus reflected on the lessons of the Iraq surge yesterday during a day-long conference sponsored by the conservative Hudson Institute on countering violent extremism. “This is a generational struggle,” the retired Army general and former CIA director said. “Therefore, we must have a sustainable and sustained commitment as our strategy. … That is: we need to have a strategy that is sustainable in terms of the expenditure of blood and treasure, so that we can have the kind of sustained commitment that is necessary in an endeavor that is generational in nature.” Part of that, he explained, means never setting timelines for withdrawal.
Bannon, who was President Trump’s chief strategist into the summer, sought to directly refute Petraeus when he appeared at the conference later in the day. “There’s nobody in the United States that wants to be engaged in combat operations, Special Forces operations, drone operations (for multiple generations),” he said. “That’s just not where the American people are. It’s not the way our country was founded or formed. … We’re prepared to be allies. What we don’t want is these countries to be protectorates. It’s not our fight.”
He said Petraeus was too focused on “nation building.” “We have to build a nation called the United States of America,” Bannon said. “The way you can have Pax Americana is if we’re a robust and strong society ourselves, not trying to impose our way of life and our beliefs on other people.”
After privately urging him for months to not go along with the military’s recommendation, Bannon also broke publicly with Trump over his decision to escalate U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. “In Afghanistan, I believe we’ve tried to impose our values,” said Bannon, who is back to running Breitbart News. “I believe we’re trying to impose a liberal democratic system on a society that clearly to me doesn’t seem to want it. … We’re not looking to transform the world into our values. The world has got to come to its own conclusions about how it wants to govern themselves.”