General Petraeus at Sciences Po: Of Killer Rabbits and Afghanistan

Today General Patraeus who heads the NATO effort in Afghanistan gave a compelling, humble assessment of the campaign’s progress in Afghanistan at Sciences Po. I was fortunate to go along and hear him speak. While I recorded some video footage, the quality is extremely poor and not suitable for posting here.

Anyhow, Gen Petraeus spoke candidly on the track record of NATO partners in Afghanistan, painting a sober, nuanced picture of how well the campaign is fairing. He painted a portrait of mixed success and tried to bring the audience to an appreciation of the regional and practical challenges of running such a campaign. While there remained significant work to be done in “suffocating” insurgent networks , cutting them off from the various crutches that support their existence – his metaphor not mine – through what he referred to as an “anaconda’ approach to counter-insurgency: There were some notable gains in the battle for the minds and hearts of Afghans, according to Petraeus. The number of kids in schools had leapt from under 1 million in 2001 to over seven times that amount at present as a case in point. Several roads had been paved and made travel less of a nightmare, since 2001.

That said, he did not gloss over the challenges that partners face in combating corruption for example – and in coordinating the administration of donor aid..

BUT – this blogger really appreciated the type of person the General came across as – humble and accessible. He’s really a great choice to be the face and voice of the Nato operation. Before leading into a discussion of the technicalities of the operation in Afghanistan – the General went on a charm offensive. Launching compliments to the audience of Paris’s elite – the General extolled the role of French forces in international peace and security before launching into an even more charming encouragement to the gaggle of students to take our graduate studies seriously.

In a matter of seconds, General Petraeus debunked stereotypes of military men as being dour and stiff.

I particularly enjoyed a sweet anecdote he shared on a certain rabbit who was working on his doctoral thesis. And apparently the little creature’s hypothesis was along the lines of rabbits being the most ferocious hunters of all. To which the curt response of an unsuspecting wolf was “what is your data and evidence to back that claim?’

Seeing that the only way to prove his point would be to invite the wolf into his rabbit hole, the rabbit descends into his hole with the wolf and makes an example of the poor wolf. Other more dangerous animals including a ferocious tiger and a bear, dare to question his hypothesis only to become case studies of the murderous nature of rabbits.

So, the rabbit’s thesis is repeatedly validated to the chagrin and confusion of all of the forests animals. So, a forest wide meeting is convened to find interrogate the rabbit’s findings and the secret behind his success in validating such an offbeat thesis. Exasperated, the forest animals resolve to send an old wise owl in the dead of night to discover Rabbits secret.

The owl manages to coax rabbit into conversation and asks what his secret is? How does he manage to consistently validate such a far-fetched thesis?

The secret, the rabbit insists, lies in having a great academic adviser. You can;t go wrong with a great academic advisor.

If there is anything I’ll always remember regardingGeneral Petraeus’ personal affability – it will probably be tied to this charming anecdote and encouragement on the benefits of having a great advisor when drafting a thesis:) It was a great pleasure to hear him speak on both the weightier issues of the Afghani operation and more importantly, on how – with the right adviser – you can produce a convincing thesis on killer rabbits! 🙂