A former top Pentagon general and so-called architect of the 2007 Iraq surge criticized America's most recent wartime presidents on Tuesday, saying their inability to lead spurred on many Americans' negative views toward the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The American people will "underwrite protracted wars," provided there is progress, said retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, the former Army vice chief of staff who retired in 2003. With AEI scholar Fred Kagan, he authored the paper "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq" in 2007, which helped to convince President George W. Bush to deploy an extra 20,000 troops, largely into Baghdad.
Keane spoke with Kagan at the American Enterprise Institute Tuesday afternoon on the 10th anniversary of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and said President Barack Obama has not learned from Bush's mistake of ignoring the American people.
"War is fundamentally a test of wills," he said. "You have to persevere through those if you attempt to win, and you have to bring your people with you."
"We did none of it under the Bush administration, and we've done none of it here with the current administration in Afghanistan," he added.
He gave the example of a vehicle full of U.S. troops falling victim to an improvised explosive device attack. American people judge the situation every time news like this breaks, Keane said.
It is the responsibility of the government to put these attacks into context, he notes: What is the assessment? Can the enemy sustain these attacks? Does that affect local leaders' ability to govern? What is the consequence of the action?
"The American people will underwrite casualties to a certain degree, if purpose and end make sense to them," Keane said. He cites initial estimates of up to 40,000 American casualties in the wars in the Middle East. Actual casualties amount to 4,486 in Iraq and 2,190 in Afghanistan, according to icasualties.org.
"It's the length of time that's the issue, and the appearance of no progress," he said. "We ought to be able to demonstrate [progress] to the American people."