Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in the Middle East, comes to BYU

Published: Thursday, March 25 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

In Vietnam, Gen. Creighton Abrams understood the importance of fighting insurgencies and rebuilding the society, but he wasn't given enough time to implement counterinsurgency techniques before the American public and Congress grew sick of the war and "pulled the plug," Jordan said.

After that, counterinsurgency was pushed aside and almost forgotten, Jordan said. And then came Petraeus, who had dissected the Vietnam War in his dissertation and co-authored a new Army field manual on counterinsurgency, referred to as the "Petraeus Doctrine," released in late 2006.

Petraeus also introduced the "Anaconda Strategy," blending political reconciliation and conventional force operations with religious engagement and jobs programs to squeeze the life out of the enemy.

"He was a major figure in the change from focusing on killing and capturing the enemy, the dominant approach from 2003 to late 2006," Ricks told the Deseret News, "to focusing on protecting the people and so making the enemy irrelevant."

But not everyone loves the grassroots approach.

Some observers are concerned about the money that nation building takes away from conventional fighting, and others worry about promoting tribalism over a cohesive central government.

For some, the more general concern is the conflicts themselves.

March 19, 2010, marked the seventh anniversary of the start of the war, declared in an attempt to find and destroy "weapons of mass destruction."

Such weapons were never found, and many people have criticized the government and the military for the troops' continued presence in the region.

Some have even attacked Petraeus personally, alleging he inflated progress made in Iraq to appease the government.

But the numbers speak for themselves, with violence dropping since the troop surge in 2007, a year that saw nearly 21 violent Iraqi deaths each day due to car bombs or suicide bombers, according to IraqBodyCount.org, a human security project dedicated to recording each violent civilian death since the war began.

By 2008, that number had fallen to 10, and by 2010, it was just below six.

In 2007, American troops lost 904 soldiers. The next year, the number had dropped sharply to 314, and it fell even more in 2009, to 149, according to icasualties.org, which compiles data from the Department of Defense, CENTCOM and the British Ministry of Defense.

This year, 16 soldiers have died in Iraq.

Sanok has seen that decrease in violence firsthand, having spent a year in Iraq working for the State Department on strategic planning and civil-military cooperation.

She remembers walking the streets with people who were once again shopping and visiting restaurants and clubs, rather than huddling terrified in their homes.

For two days in October 2009, companies filled the Gulf Hotel in the Kingdom of Bahrain for an oil industry conference. In December 2008, thousands of visitors attended the first ever Iraq Energy Expo and Conference.

"That's a good indicator," she said. "Businesses have their bottom line in mind; they're not going to invest in a country if they think something bad is going to happen there."

But the most compelling pictures of hope are the purple fingers: ink stains that represented the chance to vote.

Iraqis flocked to the polls just a few weeks ago to vote in their second election.

Although they used paper ballots and will most likely deal with some corruption somewhere, Sanok said, the election is still the fruit of a fledgling democracy.

Americans must understand that "not all democracies look the same," she said, adding that just because Iraq's looks different than America's, it "doesn't make theirs less valid."

The future of our conflicts

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