Aljazeera, in this article draws possibly relevant parallels between American policy in Afghanistan and the 19th century British in the Sudan. You can read more about General Charles George “Chinese” Gordon here.
A new General ‘Chinese’ Gordon
In this manner, the Europeans have bolstered the position of US-NATO Afghan commander General David Petraeus and the rest of the US military leadership, who have quietly insisted that any post-July 2011 troop withdrawals be calibrated to improvements on the ground, and have sharply differed with their civilian counterparts in Washington concerning the prospects for success.
Thus has Petraeus become the master of Afghan policy, if not of his own fate.
Indeed, it would be hard to overstate the centrality of Petraeus in the Afghan struggle. To find a close analogy to Petraeus’ current position, one has to look back to the 19th century.
Just six months ago, as the diminutive American general was dispatched to Afghanistan on the heels of a senate confirmation process which bordered at times on idolatry, I was haunted by the sepia-toned image of another long-ago master of insurgent warfare: General “Chinese” Gordon.
Major-General Charles George Gordon, C.B., a hero of the British Empire, professionally respected and popularly revered both for his brilliant success as a commander of “native” irregular forces in China’s Second Opium War, and for his record as a wise colonial administrator and suppressor of the slave trade in Africa, was reluctantly dispatched by the British government in 1884 to deal with an Islamist insurgency in the Sudan.
The uprising was led by the Mahdi, the self-styled Messiah; one might think of him as the Mullah Omar — the self-styled Commander of the Faithful — of his day.
Sent largely out of political expediency as a sop to public opinion, by civilian political leaders leery of further colonial entanglements in Africa, Gordon found himself unable to reconcile his vague instructions with his sense of honour and the realities on the ground. He thus elaborated his own policy, independently of his political masters, who desired only an evacuation of their subjects south of the Egyptian border.
Ultimately cut off by the Mahdi and besieged at Khartoum, Gordon’s garrison was overrun, and he himself beheaded in 1885.
Like Gordon Pasha before him, Petraeus Bahadur has been dispatched largely out of political expediency. It may be hard to remember now, but six months ago it would have been virtually inconceivable that Petraeus, having risen to become the combatant commander for all of the Middle East and South Asia, including both Iraq and Afghanistan, could ever be relegated to a subordinate command.
The sacking of General Stanley McChrystal, however, and the unseemly political infighting which precipitated it had created the public perception of a failing war effort in hopeless disarray. The only chance for the Obama administration to turn that perception around was to reach out to Petraeus, the hero of the Iraq “surge” and the author of a US counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine which had recently gained the status of holy writ, and cast him into the breach. It was a masterful political stroke, hailed even more by Republicans than by Democrats.
Also like Gordon Pasha before him, Petraeus inherited a vague and ambivalent strategy put forward by civilian political leaders who had little faith in its efficacy. If there were any doubts about that, Bob Woodward’s recent and exhaustively researched book Obama’s Wars would have put them to rest.
Now having effectively seized control of Afghan policy, and having gained a free hand to implement a COIN doctrine of his own devising, Petraeus will rise or fall on its success. He is unlikely to share the literal fate of his 19th-century predecessor. But it is equally unlikely that his military reputation will survive his encounter with our modern-day Mahdi.
via Petraeus: master of Afghan policy — Opinion — Al Jazeera English.