This article by the UK’s Telegraph is typical of the poor journalism we’re subjected too anymore. The headline blares:
Barack Obama furious at General Stanley McChrystal speech on Afghanistan
The subhead claims that Obama and McChyristal’s relationship has been put under “severe strain” since a speech in the UK.
But when you get into the body of the article, here’s what you find (HT: Mudville Gazzette):
According to sources close to the administration, Gen McChrystal shocked and angered presidential advisers with the bluntness of a speech given in London last week.
An adviser to the administration said: “People aren’t sure whether McChrystal is being naïve or an upstart. To my mind he doesn’t seem ready for this Washington hard-ball and is just speaking his mind too plainly.”
The remarks have been seen by some in the Obama administration as a barbed reference to the slow pace of debate within the White House.
A military expert said: “They still have working relationship but all in all it’s not great for now.”
Some commentators regarded the general’s London comments as verging on insubordination.
Not once is Obama identified by name as being “furious” with McChrystal. As for the “insubordination” charge, I have no idea where they get the idea that dismissing a strategy as one he wouldn’t favor is insubordination. Especially since no one in his chain of command (no, the VP isn’t in the chain of command) has recommended it. However this is one of two placees in the article where a name is named:
Bruce Ackerman, an expert on constitutional law at Yale University, said in the Washington Post: “As commanding general, McChrystal has no business making such public pronouncements.”
He added that it was highly unusual for a senior military officer to “pressure the president in public to adopt his strategy”.
What Ackerman contends isn’t true – generals often remark on strategy and what they think will and won’t work in their particular situation. That’s what they’re paid to do – assess strategies and pick the right one. The fact that he finds a particular strategy wanting doesn’t mean he’s attempting to apply pressure in public. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and in this case, as I understand it, he didn’t bring the subject up, he was answering a question.
But to the larger point – not one of these people seems to say anything that supports the headline or the contention in the sub-head. The Telegraph even goes to the extent of trying to make the 25 minute meeting with the president into something that was “awkward”, without anything to support that contention:
The next day he was summoned to an awkward 25-minute face-to-face meeting on board Air Force One on the tarmac in Copenhagen, where the president had arrived to tout Chicago’s unsuccessful Olympic bid.
Gen James Jones, the national security adviser, yesterday did little to allay the impression the meeting had been awkward.
Asked if the president had told the general to tone down his remarks, he told CBS: “I wasn’t there so I can’t answer that question. But it was an opportunity for them to get to know each other a little bit better. I am sure they exchanged direct views.”
I’m sure they did. As stated though, Jones wasn’t there so while it is technically true he didn’t “allay the impression” of an awkward meeting, he didn’t confirm it either. He said he didn’t know. He said he couldn’t “answer that question”.
This is a perfect example of a “journalistic” attempt to spread dissension, or at least claim it exits, where it isn’t clear it exists at all. Afghanistan is tough enough nut without manufactured rifts and dissent being thrown into the mix.
Of course the left has jumped all over this supposed bit of “insubordination” and the “rift” as a reason to get rid of McChrystal – something which would be useful to those who would prefer we not do what is necessary to be successful in the ‘necessary war’.
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Apparently, someone named John L. Perry posted a blog post at NewsMax about a military coup that was quickly taken down. Bob Owens at Confederate Yankee has the whole article and a disclaimer from Newsmax as well. It has, of course, set the left on fire. What Perry wrote deserves to be seen for no other reason than its absurdity. And while the left thumps the right over this “whack job”, keep in mind Perry’s biography says he worked for both LBJ and Carter Administrations and LeRoy Collins, a former Democratic Governor of Florida.
Here are the salient parts of Perry’s blog post:
There is a remote, although gaining, possibility America’s military will intervene as a last resort to resolve the “Obama problem.” Don’t dismiss it as unrealistic.
America isn’t the Third World. If a military coup does occur here it will be civilized. That it has never happened doesn’t mean it wont. Describing what may be afoot is not to advocate it.
Will the day come when patriotic general and flag officers sit down with the president, or with those who control him, and work out the national equivalent of a “family intervention,” with some form of limited, shared responsibility?
Imagine a bloodless coup to restore and defend the Constitution through an interim administration that would do the serious business of governing and defending the nation. Skilled, military-trained, nation-builders would replace accountability-challenged, radical-left commissars. Having bonded with his twin teleprompters, the president would be detailed for ceremonial speech-making.
Military intervention is what Obama’s exponentially accelerating agenda for “fundamental change” toward a Marxist state is inviting upon America. A coup is not an ideal option, but Obama’s radical ideal is not acceptable or reversible.
Unthinkable? Then think up an alternative, non-violent solution to the Obama problem. Just don’t shrug and say, “We can always worry about that later.”
In the 2008 election, that was the wistful, self-indulgent, indifferent reliance on abnegation of personal responsibility that has sunk the nation into this morass.
A non-violent solution to the “Obama problem”? It is called an election you idiot. You cut the rug out from under him by taking the majority in Congress away from the Democrats in 2010 and then you do a voter’s “coup” in 2012 and elect someone else to the presidency.
How does one think that a military coup would put us in a better place Constitutionally? He’s certainly done his best to dress up those who would be involved in such a coup as the second coming of the founding fathers, but it is much more likely that wouldn’t be the case if an actual military coup took place.
Look, I’m no happier with Obama than Perry, but a military coup as a solution? Heaven forbid.
The military coup nonsense is just a delusional fantasy. In fact I’d rate the chance of a military coup here on the same level as an inexhaustible and non-polluting energy source being found within the next 30 seconds. How this boob figures that it is “gaining possibility” is beyond me. Unless he’s polled the upper leadership of the military recently in such a way that allows him to discern this “gain”, he’s blowing this out his posterior. Certainly there may be many in the military who are not happy with Barack Obama. But that was also true when it came to George Bush. And Bill Clinton. But, the military is not about to engage in some vast conspiratorial effort to “restore and defend the Constitution” any time soon. They have a pretty full plate right now with 2 wars and all the other missions they carry on throughout the world.
There may indeed be a true Constitutional crisis at some point in our future where such a thing is actually contemplated, but this isn’t it.
I’m sure someone, in defense of Perry, is going to claim that this was all a farce and just something thrown out there in good fun to solicit a reaction. If so, then you have to wonder why it “disappeared” from Newsmax’s website faster than a bottle of beer in a frat house. It was a stupid post, with no basis in fact and injurious to Newsmax’s credibility. They apparently figured that out quickly and issued a statement in which support for the post is not at all evident (something TNR never did during the Beauchamp debacle – there by further tarnishing their reputation). Good for them.
Owens does wonder something I too thought about:
The simple fact of the matter is that author seems to have come unhinged, and for reasons perhaps structural to the site’s editorial process, the column made it to print without a sanity check by the editors.
Any bet that will change?
And you also have to wonder what a guy who lists work with three democratic administrations is doing writing blog posts for Newsmax. That and why he’s now so disillusioned with a Democratic president?
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It is decision time for our involvement in that country – i.e. whether we continue or whether we pull the bulk of our troops out.
As I said in another post, fish or cut bait. Or, in Texas Hold ’em parlance, go all in or fold.
Some look at those two very stark options and point out that there are many other options in between. True. But, given how this war has gone, I think those are the only two viable ones. What we’re doing now, which falls squarely between them, isn’t working. And variations on that aren’t going to work any better.
It seems to me we have to either make a concerted and focused effort to again nation build (and all that entails with time, blood and treasure), or we have to decide to leave that up to the Afghan people and concentrate on al Qaeda hunting on a much smaller scale. That, of course, would be the “fold” option.
President Obama is rethinking the Afghanistan strategy he announced a mere 6 months ago in the wake of the recent Afghan election. The allegations of reported fraud have made the administration much less inclined to support the current Afghan government without dramatic changes. I have no problem with that reassessment if it is done with an eye on settling, soon, on one of the two options above. If you read what the Taliban are saying, the Karzai government is one of their best recruiting assets. The corruption and cronyism have isolated that government from the people. Of course, in counter-insurgency doctrine (COIN), the link between the people and their government is critical to success, and that link is only viable if the people support said government. That is increasingly not the case in Afghanistan.
That presents the type of problem that does indeed require reassessment of strategy. We can flood Afghanistan with troops, have them at a one-to-one ratio with the population and provide the security COIN requires. But if that population has no confidence in the viability of its own government, doesn’t support it and doesn’t consider those trying to topple it “the enemy”, the entire effort is doomed.
So essentially the choice facing the administration now is to nation build or withdraw. Withdrawal doesn’t necessarily mean we quit the fight against al Qaeda. But for the most part, it would mean quitting the fight against the Taliban. And I think we all know how that would end.
It is quite a moral dilemma and it is also not an easy decision. While going “all in” would be the politically unpopular decision here, it would most likely spare the world the spectacle of a Taliban takeover and the resulting barbaric vengeance they would inflict on the population. There is only one nation which will bear the blame in the eyes of the rest of the world even if most of the administration’s political base would support the decision. The US would again be charged with not finishing something it started. And that, as we’ve learned in the past, is something that other rogue leaders see as a weakness they can exploit. As usual it will be seen not as a weakness of our military, but, if they wait long enough, the eventual weakening of our political will.
Whatever decision the administration makes, it must avoid the status quo. That’s not working now and it won’t work in the future. Just as Iraq required a dramatic change in strategy to succeed, so does Afghanistan. If the decision is to continue with the current troop levels and a few cosmetic changes here and there, then the administration will be committing us to a strategy of failure. We owe it to our brave men and women there not to play political games with their lives. Whatever decision is made it must be made very soon, within the next month or so, and must be devoid of politics. Delays in making such a decision are not acceptable.
It is time for this administration to step up, make a decision and let the political chips fall where they may. Don’t put it on the back burner. The time is now to decide whether we’re going all in or we’re going to fold in Afghanistan. At a minimum, we owe our military that.
UPDATE: Well this is encouraging. The CINC hasn’t talked to his commander in Afghanistan in 70 days because, I guess, he’s been so busy. But, as it turns out, he has the time to fly off to Copenhagen and shill for the Chicago Olympics. And they still wonder why Democrats have such a great reputation when it comes to matters of national security.
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One of the things military officers do more regularly than they like to admit is play “you bet your bars”. The ‘bars’ referred too are usually captain bars, but it applies at all levels of command. Essentially it means you find yourself in a situation where you lay your career on the line with a decision you make. If the situation works out well, then it’s all good. If not, you’ve “bet your bars” and lost and your career is most likely over. They aren’t all life or death situations. Sometimes they’re situations in which you cannot morally or ethically continue to do what you are being ordered to do because you cannot support the mission as structured. You feel ethically obligated to take a stand.
General Stanley McChrystal is in a “you bet your stars” situation as the commander in Afghanistan. Bill Roggio is reporting that word is out that if McChrystal doesn’t get the “resources” he’s requested, he’ll resign his command:
Within 24 hours of the leak of the Afghanistan assessment to The Washington Post, General Stanley McChrystal’s team fired its second shot across the bow of the Obama administration. According to McClatchy, military officers close to General McChrystal said he is prepared to resign if he isn’t given sufficient resources (read “troops”) to implement a change of direction in Afghanistan:
Adding to the frustration, according to officials in Kabul and Washington, are White House and Pentagon directives made over the last six weeks that Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, not submit his request for as many as 45,000 additional troops because the administration isn’t ready for it.
In the last two weeks, top administration leaders have suggested that more American troops will be sent to Afghanistan, and then called that suggestion “premature.” Earlier this month, Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that “time is not on our side”; on Thursday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates urged the public “to take a deep breath.”
In Kabul, some members of McChrystal’s staff said they don’t understand why Obama called Afghanistan a “war of necessity” but still hasn’t given them the resources they need to turn things around quickly.
Three officers at the Pentagon and in Kabul told McClatchy that the McChrystal they know would resign before he’d stand behind a faltering policy that he thought would endanger his forces or the strategy.
“Yes, he’ll be a good soldier, but he will only go so far,” a senior official in Kabul said. “He’ll hold his ground. He’s not going to bend to political pressure.”
On Thursday, Gates danced around the question of when the administration would be ready to receive McChrystal’s request, which was completed in late August. “We’re working through the process by which we want that submitted,” he said.
The entire process followed by the military in implementing a change of course in Afghanistan is far different, and bizarrely so, from the process it followed in changing strategy in Iraq.
Read the whole Roggio article.
Some may find such a “leak” of his intentions to be an act of petulance. Far from it – if his staff didn’t know this about McChrystal, I’d have been more surprised. After all it was his staff who was integral in putting together the confidential assessment that was leaked to the press.
What this underscores is the depth of feeling and commitment to their plan that McChrystal and his staff have. McChrystal is laying it all on the line and I’m not at all surprised to find out that if his minimums are not met and he’s not given the tools he thinks he needs to succeed, he’ll refuse to be a party to what he would consider a decision to fail and resign.
I’d expect nothing less from him. The politicans may be comfortable with putting more soldiers and Marines at risk, but he’ll refuse to be a party to it. Frankly, his soldiers would expect nothing less from him.
Politically this leak may be viewed as disloyalty. I’m not sure how, but it wouldn’t surprise me. If I were CINC I wouldn’t want a general in a major command who wasn’t willing to “bet his stars” in a situation. I would expect this to be his position. Gen. McChrystal’s professional assessment is his word and bond. He stakes his professional reputation in such a document, saying if given what he requests, he’ll succeed. He takes full ownership of the battle at that point.
But he also bluntly points out that if the request is denied, failure will result. In that case, he has no ethical requirement to simply salute and go down with the ship. In fact, his professional ethics require him to stand up and refuse to participate in something he thinks will not only fail but get his soldiers needlessly killed while doing so. That refusal will come via his resignation from command.
I respect that very much. I’m going to be interested to see how this is handled now, politically. But this adds a new dimension to the politics of the situation and it puts even more pressure on an untried and inexperienced CINC. We’ll all learn much more about the man in that position as this plays out. Despite my ideological differences with him and his agenda, I’m hoping there’s something within him that makes him step up to the plate on Afghanistan and lead. He has got to decide very soon what the strategy the US will follow in Afghanistan will be – commit to McChrystal’s plan or pull out. No other strategy is acceptable. It is one or the other. None of this status quo while politicians debate whether or not to commit to a strategy. The status quo isn’t working and it is getting good men and women killed while they dally.
President Obama must clearly commit to either “success” as defined by McChrystal’s plan or pulling out in an orderly fashion and leaving Afghanistan to its own devices.
Unfortunately, to this point, I’ve seen nothing to indicate he understands that or that’s he capable of making such a monumental decision in the timeframe necessary.
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Lech Wałęsa, former President of Poland had this to say about the Obama announcement that the US was pulling the anti-missile defense system from Poland:
“Americans have always cared only about their interests, and all other [countries] have been used for their purposes. This is another example,” Mr Walesa told TVN24. “[Poles] need to review our view of America, we must first of all take care of our business,” he added.
“I could tell from what I saw, what kind of policies President Obama cultivates,” the former president added. “I simply don’t like this policy, not because this shield was required [in Poland], but [because of] the way we were treated,” he concluded.
Another foreign policy coup. Treating our allies shabbily while sucking up to the Putins and Chavezs of the world.
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The IAEA announced, almost simultaneously with the US unilateral withdrawal of its planned eastern European anti-missile shield, that Iran now has the capability and materials to build a nuclear weapon. Why did the IAEA come to that conclusion?
• The IAEA’s assessment that Iran worked on developing a chamber inside a ballistic missile capable of housing a warhead payload “that is quite likely to be nuclear.”
• That Iran engaged in “probable testing” of explosives commonly used to detonate a nuclear warhead — a method known as a “full-scale hemispherical explosively driven shock system.”
• An assessment that Iran worked on developing a system “for initiating a hemispherical high explosive charge” of the kind used to help spark a nuclear blast.
Additionally it noted, “The agency … assesses that Iran has sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable implosion nuclear device (an atomic bomb) based on HEU (highly enriched uranium) as the fission fuel.”
And it has enriched enough uranium for fuel that it could be turned into enough weapons grade uranium for a single nuclear weapon.
So we have the capacity for a nuclear weapon and apparently proof, or at least some pretty heavy indications, that Iran has been working assiduously toward developing a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear payload as well as developing and testing an explosive trigger for such a device.
Obviously this didn’t come as a surprise to the US. Iran’s capability in both missiles and nuclear weapons technology continues to grow.
So excuse me if I don’t buy this “redefinition” of the threat the Obama administration is claiming is better addressed by its focus on short and medium range Iranian missiles. Any defense against missiles is a layered defense. That means you address all possible missile threats.
The fact remains that the only threat to Europe, for whom the Bush-era anti-missile shield was intended, is ballistic missiles. Iran (or Russia) must use them to reach that continent. Iranian short and medium range missiles are not a threat Europe.
The point, of course, is should Iran develop an ICBM, Europe would be defenseless because the systems which are designed for the short and medium range missiles aren’t designed to go after ICBMs.
Or said another way, the proper announcement would have been “the US is adding the missing two layers to the anti-missile defense system, thereby making the system complete.”
Instead we pulled the long-range system. Why?
Well that’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? Most feel it was a capitulation in answer to Russia’s fears of the system. Russia had claimed that the small and supposed defensive system could be turned into offensive system aimed at them. Of course that would require a completely different sort of missile than would have been deployed there, and, probably, a different sort of radar system as well.
Speaking of the radar system, Russia objected to the sophisticated X-band radar saying it would be able to look in 360 degrees and would be monitoring Russian missiles much too closely. Seems a bit absurd to make that claim when Russia knows we have satellites that can read the bumper numbers off their mobile missile launchers at will.
Then there was the claim that the US and Russia had an agreement that US troops and weapons wouldn’t be stationed or deployed in the former Warsaw Pact nations. The US doesn’t seem to remember that, but Russia claims its the case. That certainly can’t be the concern since Obama has said that in the future the new anti-missile systems might be deployed in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Obama says his decision was driven by the “unanimous advice” of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Said the man who recommended the deployment of the missile shield to President Bush three years ago:
“Those who say we are scrapping missile defence in Europe are either misinformed or misrepresenting the reality of what we are doing in Europe,” said Robert Gates, US defence secretary.
In a word: nonsense!
Someone please explain the spurious claim that the best missile defense system for Europe – which can only be hit by an Iranian ICBM – is one which targets short and medium range Iranian missiles. It makes absolutely no sense.
It makes no sense until Russia is dragged into the equation. Then it starts to become somewhat clear. This is a risky bet meant to appease Russia while at the same time hoping Iran is unable to develop a long-range nuclear capable missile before its nuclear weapons program can be stopped. It is also clearly a bow to Russia and a part of the Obama administration’s unilateral attempt to “reset” relations with that country. And it is a display of weakness.
What about our allies? How do they feel about this? Well perhaps the best way to answer that is to understand why they were so interested in the anti-missile system promised by the Bush administration:
During negotiations with the Bush administration, Warsaw pushed hard for a missile defence agreement that would reward them with a Patriot short-range air defence unit supported by US troops. In the end, Poland agreed in principle to host the US base during last year’s war between Russia and Georgia, which sparked fears about Russian intentions towards central Europe.
Eastern Europe doesn’t trust Russia as far as they can throw them (a lesson we should have learned as well). The invasion and virtual annexation of two provinces of Georgia underscored Russia intent to dominate what it calls it’s “near abroad” (or Post-Soviet Space). Russia literally thumbed its nose at the US and the rest of the world with its military incursion there. Poland and other former Warsaw pact nations took the lesson for what it was – a declaration that Russia was back and intended to play hardball.
Max Boot reminds us of the last time this sort of thing happened:
That Obama has now bowed to Putin’s demands sends a dangerous signal of irresoluteness and weakness—similar to the signal another young president sent when he met with a Russian leader in Vienna in 1961. Nikita Khrushchev emerged from his summit with John F. Kennedy convinced that the president was “very inexperienced, even immature” and that he could be rolled. We all know the result: the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Except this time we’re playing in Russia’s backyard, not our own. Again, leadership is absent in a very critical area of national security.
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Just when it seems we’re putting al Qaeda between a rock and a hard place, we’re seeing talk about leaving Afghanistan. While we may feel we’ve a way to go against the Taliban, we seem to be succeeding against our number one enemy – al Qaeda:
Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida is under heavy pressure in its strongholds in Pakistan’s remote tribal areas and is finding it difficult to attract recruits or carry out spectacular operations in western countries, according to government and independent experts monitoring the organisation.
Speaking to the Guardian in advance of tomorrow’s eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, western counter-terrorism officials and specialists in the Muslim world said the organisation faced a crisis that was severely affecting its ability to find, inspire and train willing fighters.
Its activity is increasingly dispersed to “affiliates” or “franchises” in Yemen and North Africa, but the links of local or regional jihadi groups to the centre are tenuous; they enjoy little popular support and successes have been limited.
It is getting harder and harder to recruit “martyrs”. And, apparently, the organization has been so brutal that it is welcome in few areas. Meanwhile drone attacks continue to decimate its leadership. And those they do recruit are all but driven off once they get to their training site:
Interrogation documents seen by the Guardian show that European Muslim volunteers faced a chaotic reception, a low level of training, poor conditions and eventual disillusionment after arriving in Waziristan last year.
In other words, they become disillusioned cannon fodder. And, of course, word gets back and the supply of more cannon fodder slows to a veritable trickle.
This is called having an opponent on the ropes. We now need to do what is necessary to knock them out for good.
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Yes, I’m again addressing presidential leadership, or the lack thereof. While it appears that President Obama has finally decided he has to “step up” in the health care insurance reform debate, he’s seems to be AWOL in that department concerning Afghanistan. Abu Muqawama lays it out pretty succinctly:
I do not think it would surprise any reader of this blog, though, to note the speed with which the debate has shifted on the war in Afghanistan. What was, 12 months ago, “the good war” has now become, for paleoconservatives and progressives alike, a fool’s errand. And the Obama Administration has thus far shown little energy for defending a policy and strategic goals (.pdf) they themselves arrived at just five months ago. I thought that once the president had settled on a policy and strategic aims, the rest of the administration would then go about executing that policy. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, right? Yet the policy debate seems to continue within the White House, with the Office of the Vice President apparently pushing for a much more limited approach than what was articulated in March by the president himself and following a lengthy policy review. No wonder, then, the uniformed military is getting nervous about the administration’s support for their war. Either the White House has been too busy with health care, or they have failed to notice how quickly the debate has shifted under their feet (as with health care).
Of course the assumptions Abu makes in his paragraph above are only valid if there’s someone in charge and leading the effort. A decision was supposedly made in March, in terms of policy and goals, and the assumption was made it would be executed. But apparently that’s not the case. And, as in the case of health
care insurance reform, the evident lack of leadership has caused there to be a noticeable shift in the debate and a tremendous drop in support for the war effort. Again, a major policy issue is left to twist in the wind for lack of a leader.
Abu Muqawama, obviously recognizing this problem, throws out a solution:
What needs to happen? Well, first off, I guess we should decide what we’re trying to do in Afghanistan. (Again, when we set about reviewing ISAF operations in June and July, we thought this question had already been resolved in March.) Once that question is settled, the administration needs to go about defending and explaining their policy. Until then, it’s understandable why everyone from voters in Peoria to Mullah Omar in Afghanistan (?) are confused as to what, exactly, U.S. policy is at the moment.
This is a very critical issue that needs to be resolved now. That means the Commander-in-Chief needs to act like one and do what is necessary to resolve this policy issue. He needs to make a decision, give guidance to the proper agencies which directs them in how he wants his decision implemented and, finally, take responsibility for the war.
As a certain someone is learning, governing and actually leading is much harder than standing off to the side and tossing bricks while regaling everyone with how much better you could do the job. Thus far, the job performance has been anything but impressive.
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For all the rhetoric about Afghanistan being “the ‘good’ war” and where we should be concentrating the fight that we heard during the campaign, it really comes as no surprise to me that politicians, the chattering class, and the liberal left is now pitching abandonment of the effort there just when we are seriously considering that which is necessary to turn the fight around.
As usual it has to do with political will.
The new commander, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has done his assessment of the situation and has rendered his report.
“The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort.”
Read that carefully – two words in particular are aimed primarily at one particular sphere of influence – the political. What McChrystal is saying to the political community is, “I think we can be successful if we follow the revised strategy I’ve set forward, but without the “commitment and resolve” from the political community to see this through, it will all be for naught.”
Anthony Cordesman, who was involved in McChrystal’s assessment, delivers what I would characterize as a pretty succinct and honest appraisal of why we’re in the situation we’re in now:
The most critical reason has been resources. Between 2002 and 2008 the United States never provided the forces, money or leadership necessary to win, effectively wasting more than half a decade.
Our country left a power vacuum in most of Afghanistan that the Taliban and other jihadist insurgents could exploit and occupy, and Washington did not respond when the U.S. Embassy team in Kabul requested more resources.
The Bush administration gave priority to sending forces to Iraq, it blustered about the successes of civilian aid efforts in Afghanistan that were grossly undermanned and underresourced, and it did not react to the growing corruption of Hamid Karzai’s government or the major problems created by national caveats and restrictions on the use of allied forces and aid.
It treated Pakistan as an ally when it was clear to U.S. experts on the scene that the Pakistani military and intelligence service did (and do) tolerate al-Qaeda and Afghan sanctuaries and still try to manipulate Afghan Pashtuns to Pakistan’s advantage.
Further, it never developed an integrated civil-military plan or operational effort even within the U.S. team in Afghanistan; left far too much of the aid effort focused on failed development programs; and denied the reality of insurgent successes in ways that gave insurgents the initiative well into 2009.
Like it or not, Afghanistan has been the second priority when it came to resources. Turning it around is going to take both time and more resources – something, if you read the pundits and politicians today, many are not willing to do.
Cordesman says that “most experts” agree that US troop levels in Afghanistan need to be increased by “three to eight more brigade combat teams”. But he also stresses that those BCTs would primarily be engaged in training Afghan troops and making them “full partners rather than tools”. The need for that training is past critical and was highlighted as a problem when 4,000 plus Marines pushed into Helmand province and only 600 Afghan troops (around a battalion) were able to participate.
However Cordesman’s last point about civil-military plans is just as critical and just as on-point. These programs are critical and lacking. A big plus up in that area is required to turn the situation around.
Militarily, what we must do is “take, hold and keep the Afghan population secure”. Classic COIN.
Just as important but glaringly lacking at the moment is the other and equally important side of the process:
[S]ecure local governance and economic activity to give Afghans reason to trust their government and allied forces. They must build the provincial, district and local government capabilities that the Kabul government cannot and will not build for them. No outcome of the recent presidential election can make up for the critical flaws in a grossly overcentralized government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry.
Hamid Karzai is nothing more than the mayor of Kabul in reality. One of the critical tasks we faced and overcame in Iraq was teaching Iraqis at every level how to build those necessary government capabilities and then link them all together in a single functioning entity. While certainly not perfect, it provided a decent basis for governance that they’ve been able to assess and refine as they’ve gained experience.
That task has yet to be done in Afghanistan.
And it may never be done either.
Because the “good war” that the left claimed was legitimate and necessary to fight is suddenly neither.
We’re now treated to daily editorials and op/eds wondering if Afghanistan is Obama’s Vietnam or whether we find ourselves in yet another “quagmire”.
And it is reported that even conservative commenter George Will is preparing to come out against our continued presence there, rationalizing such a pull-out with a foolish solution (his column is now available):
“[F]orces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, airstrikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters.”
Of course such a strategy will secure neither Afghanistan or Pakistan and certainly do nothing at all toward eliminating the al Qaeda threat. Instead it would give the organization a much freer hand in both countries.
Politicians have also begun to weigh in with rationalizations for pulling out of Afghanistan that can only be characterized as ignorant. Take Sen. Russ Feingold who claims he was for the war before he decided now to be against it. And, per Feingold, if we only listen to him, we can have our cake and eat it too:
We need to start discussing a flexible timetable to bring our brave troops out of Afghanistan. Proposing a timetable doesn’t mean giving up our ability to go after al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Far from it: We should continue a more focused military mission that includes targeted strikes on Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, and we should step up our long-term civilian efforts to deal with the corruption in the Afghan government that has helped the Taliban to thrive. But we must recognize that our troop presence contributes to resentment in some quarters and hinders our ability to achieve our broader national security goals.
Of course Feingold’s solution expects the Taliban and al Qaeda to remain quiescent and cooperate with his plan by leaving the population, the government and our “long-term civilian efforts” alone after we pull our troops out and Afghanistan unable to defend itself.
There are other political moves afoot as well as Cordesman points out. Speaking of the realities of the Afghanistan situation and the required support necessary to change it successfully, he says:
Unfortunately, strong elements in the White House, State Department and other agencies seem determined to ignore these realities. They are pressuring the president to direct Eikenberry and McChrystal to come to Washington to present a broad set of strategic concepts rather than specific requests for troops, more civilians, money and an integrated civil-military plan for action. They are pushing to prevent a fully integrated civil-military effort, and to avoid giving Eikenberry and McChrystal all the authority they need to try to force more unity of effort from allied forces and the U.N.-led aid effort.
And his conclusion, based on that is as true as it is unacceptable:
If these elements succeed, President Obama will be as much a failed wartime president as George W. Bush. He may succeed in lowering the political, military and financial profile of the war for up to a year, but in the process he will squander our last hope of winning. This would only trade one set of political problems for a far worse set in the future and leave us with an enduring regional mess and sanctuary for extremism. We have a reasonable chance of victory if we properly outfit and empower our new team in Afghanistan; we face certain defeat if we do not.
It will be interesting to see how the Obama team reacts to the McChrystal report. If, as Cordesman suggests, he attempts to put off a decision by caving into the pressure to have Generals Eikenberry and McChrystal provide a series of dog-and-pony shows outlining “a broad set of strategic concepts”, then I’d conclude that the political will to carry the mission to a successful conclusion is likely not there.
What we’ll instead see is a series of these sorts of delays used to push a decision on commitment further and further out until it is politically safe for the administration to pull the plug. That, of course, would be 2012 with a second term safely secured. If my cynical prediction is correct, you’ll see the effort in Afghanistan given enough support to keep it from collapsing but really not furthering the effort toward success.
If that is indeed how it plays out, then politicians will be trading the lives of our soldiers for time to successfully secure their political future. That is both immoral and totally unacceptable.
Afghanistan is a salvageable. But it will take a long time, a full commitment to the mission, patience and above all, political will.
If the political will is not there, the administration owes it to our troops to do its “cutting and running” now, and let the political chips fall where they may.
If, instead, they string this thing out until it is politically acceptable to do that, they deserve to be banished to the lowest level of hell, there to toil in agonized perpetuity for putting politics above the lives of our soldiers.
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I got a call yesterday at about 3pm from Keesler Air Force Base, home of the Hurricane Hunters.
“Hey, can you get to Andrews AFB by Sunday morning? If so we’ll fly you through Hurricane Bill!”
Heck yeah. So I go about doing all the things you have to do to get ready for such an adventure and at about 10am this morning I take off toward DC. About 30 min into the drive, my Airforce PAO contact on the scene calls me to makes sure I’ve got the mission time and we talk about what to take on the flight. She’s talking a flight of 11 to 14 hours. I’m pretty much covered on all the gear I need, but she suggests I pick up some food to take with me since there will be no in-flight meals. OK, I can handle that.
So I continue on toward Andrews when I get a second call.
“I hate to have to call and tell you this, but the National Hurricane Center has canceled tomorrow’s tasking and the mission is scrubbed”.
Ah well, Bill was just a Cat 2 storm and apparently losing a little bit of steam. I made ’em promise me they’d keep me at the top of the list for the next storm. I definitely still want to join that rather exclusive club of people who’ve flown through the eye of a hurricane – on purpose.
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