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Behind the Scenes of America’s Longest War | Mainstage

gen. (ret.) David Petraeus, Partner, KKR & Chairman, KKR Global Institute; Concordia Leadership Council Member
Gerard Baker, Editor at Large, The Wall Street Journal

After the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, President Biden declared that the era of relentless war is over. According to General David Petraeus, Chairman of KKR, the scale of the war and resources devoted to war have reduced, but the Islamist extremist threat remains. Pushed by Gerard Baker, Editor at Large for The Wall Street Journal, General Petraeus expressed concern about the damage to American reputation and credibility after withdrawal, as well as the loss of operational options without bases in the region. It is hard, he said, to see this as an enhancement to national security with decreased capacity for intelligence on the ground. General Petraeus attributed the swift collapse of the Afghan government on the withdrawal of U.S. troop and contractor support. He called it a predictable epidemic of surrender. It is too early to tell, he continued, whether the Taliban will be up to the task of governing. Governance is more difficult than insurgency.

Turning to China, Baker asked if the Biden Administration is taking the correct approach. General Petraeus praised the recent deal with Australia to deliver nuclear-powered submarines and other new technologies. He stressed that the U.S. needs to focus more on trade in the region and rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership. General Petraeus suggested that a relationship with China will struggle while Xi Jinping looks toward reelection.

The Taliban are now going to have to become, in a sense, counter-insurgents, and they’re going to find out that’s a lot less fun than being the insurgents…They’re going to have to govern.

David Petraeus

It is remarkable that 20 years, $80 billion, thousands of American lives and Allied lives, tens of thousands of Afghan lives—we invested so much in this country and the institutions of this country that we helped build collapsed like a house of cards in days.

Gerard Baker

Key takeaways & next steps:

  • It remains too early to tell whether the Taliban are up to the task of governing Afghanistan, or if the U.S. retains its ability to strike at insurgencies without troops or bases in Afghanistan.
  • The U.S. should watch closely for China’s moves in the region.