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McChrystal wasn’t the problem in Afghanistan

Of course the irony is thick – Gen. David Petraeus, the man the left labeled "General Betrayus" and then Senator Hillary Clinton essentially called a liar about Iraq, has now been called upon to pull the presidential bacon out of the fire in Afghanistan.

If winning in Iraq was a tall order, winning in Afghanistan is a giant order. We’re not much closer now than we were 9 years ago, we’re operating under a strategy that takes time and massive manpower, yet we’re dealing with a “firm” withdrawal date of next year, and the civilian team in country has been less than successful.

It is on that latter point that I wish to dwell. Before going there though, as I stated yesterday, changing “firm” to “conditions based” will go a long way toward heading off dissent and disillusionment by the Afghan people and government. The massive manpower, of course, has to come from the Afghan government (and army/police). There’s no reason for an Afghan to join those security forces if we’re leaving next June. The commitment from our government to their cause has got to be what is “firm” – not a withdrawal date.

If we’re not able to make that commitment, then we need to withdraw – completely.

But assuming our goal there is to leave a relatively intact, democratic and functioning country, that in-country civilian team needs to be challenged to do a much better job than it is or be replaced. And that begins with Amb. Eikenberry.

The basics of COIN say the military/host country forces clear/hold/protect. That protection is key and the obvious goal of the military is to turn that job of clear/hold/protect over to the ANA. However, the civilian side of things comes into play during and after that military goal has been accomplished.

First a functioning national government must be in place. The job of the civilian side of the house in the sort of nation building COIN calls for is to be intimately involved in helping the national government function properly.

The one way you don’t do that in an honor/shame society, is go on yelling rants against the president of the country as it has been reported both Eikenberry and Biden have done. Whether or not one thinks the man is corrupt or not doing enough is irrelevant – once shamed like that, his cooperation has been lost. That is the sort of toxic relationship now existing there.

Gen. Petraeus, other than his military success in Iraq, had a very close working relationship with Amb. Crocker. It was that relationship, plus the military side of things (plus the awakening and surge) that spelled success in that country.

McChrystal and Eikenberry had a very hostile and adversarial relationship (Eikenberry is not lamenting the fact that McChrystal is gone). It wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see the same sort of relationship begin to develop between Petraeus and Eikenberry, given the latter’s mode of operation. If that happens, it would be Eikenberry who would likely go down. Obama can’t afford to change generals again and Petraeus is seen by the vast majority of Americans as a winner.

Anyway, back to COIN – once clear/hold/protect is in place, government has to be extended into those areas and the people have to see the benefit of that connection. Enough so that they reject the insurgent once and for all.

That’s a very difficult and so far unobtainable goal for the civilian side of the house. Marjah is the perfect example. “President” Karzai is really the mayor of Kabul. Until he or the leader of a subsequent government is seen as and acknowledged as the president of the country in the outlying provinces of Afghanistan, the “country” will always be a collection of tribal areas, overlaid with a single religion and no real governing power.

That’s the civilian side of the house and apparently there’s a move afoot within the Senate to use the Petraeus hearings to address that problem. This is probably the most pressing need to address at the moment.

“The civilian side, in my view, is completely dysfunctional,” said Graham.

Lieberman said the magazine article “revealed what we have known, that there is not the kind of unity in Afghanistan between our civilian and military leadership” that is necessary.

Though none of the senators would name specific civilian leaders who should be replaced, McCain suggested “re-uniting the Crocker-Petraeus team,” a reference to former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who served in Baghdad while Petraeus headed up military operations in the country.

The current ambassador to Afghanistan, retired Gen. Karl Eikenberry, had a notoriously rocky relationship with McChrystal.

If this situation isn’t addressed and addressed quickly and forcefully, it isn’t going to matter much what the military does in Afghanistan. If the civilian team isn’t functional and working in harmony with the military toward the commong goal, then that goal won’t be reached.

Obama made the right decision about McChrystal, but not for these reasons. Now he needs to listen to the Senate, review the progress, or lack thereof, on the civilian side of the effort, and sack and replace those who aren’t serving him well in the critical positions there. And that would include Amb. Eikenberry.

~McQ

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11 Responses to McChrystal wasn’t the problem in Afghanistan

  • I think that the current goal is to get out, consequences be damned.

  • Obama has only put one half of his house in order.  McCrystal had to go.  That level of insubordination could not stand regardless of political orientation (McCrystal, MacArthur, Shinseki – all same).

    Now Obama has to put the other side of the house in order.  McQ, you put it properly that there has to be an intense level of cooperation working between the military and civil sides of the equation.  There may have been some level of disfunction on the military side with McCrystal but the civil side is definitely disfunctional.  And I agree you have to start with Ambassador Eikenberry but along with his relationship with Petraeus and Karzai but along iwth that is you take Biden completely out of the picture.  Biden is a walking gaffe machine and Obama allowing this bufoon to continue to stir the pot in the entire region is asking for failure.

    The bottom line.  McCrystal’s replacement is just the beginning.  Obama has to put his own house in order to continue to fight this war.  If not – GET OUT NOW!

  • In the nation state sense, what Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, California, is true about Afghanistan, “there is no there there.” That, however, is what makes Afghanistan so dangerous geopolitically, a mere group of Islamic fundamentalist thugs like the Taliban can come in and run the place as al Qaeda’s olive oil company (a reference to the Corleone family’s legit business).

    So, if a gang of thugs can take over, what is the problem for the U.S.? First, the U.S. is not a gang of thugs. It doesn’t go about its business by terrorizing the population via beheadings and killing women.

    So, Afghanistan is, like American television, a vast wasteland, punctuated with earthy settlements and population centers, wrapped in Islam, sometimes. All political alignments are, ah…experimental. What helps you today could get you tortured or killed tomorrow.

    What’s the strategic value of Afghanistan to the U.S.? First, it’s the negative value of not being a positive haven for terrorists. The theory follows that you first throw out the terrorists and then leave a functioning civil society in place with a monopoly on violence that prevents the terrorists from re-establishing themselves. That’s where the “no there there” problem comes in. Afghanistan is the land-locked lot that is never developed. The Americans show up in some locale, make friends, come back the next week and it’s, “who are you again?” Meanwhile, glaring out of the nearby cave are the illuminated cat-like eyes of the guy who cuts heads off. “We don’t really know you,” the locals say to the Yankees.

    So, that’s The Road, and it’s a long, dusty and dangerous one. And you can mostly forget about the Karzai clown show in Kabul, probably even in Kabul. Everyone in that sort of situation is wondering about where they can go a year or two from now because the Big American wants out.

    Then there’s the more positive strategic value of Afghanistan: it’s a great place to kill off the most violent jihadist demographic, which will want to be there in force if there’s a chance that the Big American can be defeated.

    For the cultural and genetic nexus at which the truly violent world jihadist demographic meets, let them come to Afghanistan. Tag them, watch them, kill them in bunches large and small. If it is true that they love death more than we love life, then by all means accomodate them with extreme prejudice in the “no there there” place.

    Naturally, the U.S. is foreclosed from stating the latter as policy. It wasn’t a stated policy in Iraq, either, but when the military records of the counterterrorism phase there are combed through by military historians, that killing field element is going to emerge, sure as shit. We got into position for the surge and counterinsurgency with a lot of good hard killing.

    Is Afghanistan ever going to have a “there there” as a nation state? Hard to say. Scotland’s clans were tamed. So anything is possible.

  • It seems amazing to me that MoveOn would be so craven and shameless as to memory-hole the “Betrayus” thing &mdash; within a week, I suppose, every administration bootlicker in the country will offer that 404 error as proof that it never happened &mdash; but then again, they <em>are</em> the left. They really are different from us.
     
    Like they say: “Honest, informed, left-wing: Pick two.”
     
     

  • Given the ideal goal of Afghanistan and the experience and influence that you are bringing to bear by “demoting” Petraeus- though it has been explained to me elsewhere that Petraeus might prefer this position to CENTCOM anyway as their is nowhere really to go in the Army chain of command that is preferable to CENTCOM  and that as the hero of one and now possibly two wars he may have aspirations outside of the Military…
     
    Anyway, given what you’ve got with Petraeus it would seem a smart move to upgrade the Afghan command position to encompass all of “house” over there.  Give him free reign to do what he feels needs to be done over there and remove the stupid “firm” withdrawal date.  Though I’m not sure the full political implications of that action (essentially giving him authority over the Ambassador and in country State Department efforts).

  • Three names that ought to serve as a guide here:

    Bunker.  Abrams.  Colby.

    I think we likely have our Abrams.  Whether than jug-eared fool can find (or will even look for) a modern Bunker or Colby remains to be seen.

    Honestly, for once in my life, I feel some confidence.  Not in Imeme, of course, but rather that there are those Americans who can get the job done no matter how hard it may seem.  We only need to turn them loose and give them time.  If our guys could do what they have done in Iraq despite the opposition of AQ, the Iranians, and their democrat allies, they can do just about anything.

    • We won in Iraq because Bush showed leadership.

      Obama has yet to show leadership. And if we do intend to leave early next year no matter what, we will lose in Afganistan.

  • So where are the howls of “Listen to the Generals”?

    Where are the chants:  “he was speaking truth to power”?

    I have been listening to NPR for the last two days and not one guest has pointed out the grotesque irony of this story. 

    I am beginning to think that the MSM should take a cue from investment shows (where they disclose if they own the stocks they are recommending), so the journalist/pundit/commentator must disclose if they voted for the President.

    And they wonder why we belive the MSM is biased.