As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, October 02, 2009

McChrystal's Loose Lips

Depending on who you read, Stanley McChrystal is either an insubordinate creep for speaking about policy he'll have to implement whether he gets his way or not, or an honest broker who is willing to defend his Commander in Chief. Depends on what part of the London speech he gave you cite.

On the one hand...

But when it comes to talking perhaps General McChrystal might want to do less of it publicly. First there was Sunday's 60 Minutes valentine to population centric COIN, now this from a speech McChrystal delivered this week in London:

General McChrystal was asked by a member of an audience that included retired military commanders and security specialists whether he would support an idea put forward by Mr. Biden to scale back the American military presence in Afghanistan to focus on tracking down the leaders of Al Qaeda, in place of the current broader effort now under way to defeat the Taliban.

“The short answer is: no,” he said. “You have to navigate from where you are, not where you wish to be. A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy.”

Look I understand that General McChrystal believes counter-insurgency is the only way forward in Afghanistan - and certainly that is pretty clear from reading this review - but this airing of views in public and denigration of alternative strategies (including one that may be forced upon him by his civilian commanders) is really over the top. Shouldn't the correct answer here be 'no comment' or something along the lines of 'the US military will carry out whatever strategy is decided upon by the civilian leadership'? McChrystal is continuing to put President Obama in the difficult position of either adhering to his strategy or publicly breaking with their military commander on the ground [...]

McChrystal is welcome to his views; he's not welcome to go public with his views in such a way to put pressure on the Obama Administration to accept them.

On the other hand:

I suppose there’s a question of whether McChrystal should be making any public comment ahead of President Obam’s decision on the proper strategic course for Afghanistan and Pakistan. But it’s not like he’s advocating anything he hasn’t already been publicly revealed to advocate by the leak of his strategy assessment last week.

And he defended the review: “The process,” he told a reporter who tried and failed to get him to disclose details, “of going through a very detailed, policy-level debate, is incredibly important and incredibly healthy. The president led that very effectively, and so I think this is a very necessary process to go through so we come to a clear decision and then move forward.”

In the same breath, he also appeared to defend election thief Hamid Karzai, which is supremely odd, but I guess if you want a population-centered COIN, you have to make everyone think there's an actual government partner.

He added this interesting bit:

...a few days ago, just before we left to travel here, a bus south of Kandahar struck an improvised explosive device (IED) killing 30 Afghan civilians. That is tragic.

On the one hand, you might say that the Afghan people would recoil against the Taliban who left that IED. To a degree, they do, but we must also understand that they recoil against us because they might think that, if we were not there, neither would be the IED. Therefore, we indirectly caused the IED to be there. Second, we said that we would protect them, but we did not. Sometimes, then, the most horrific events caused by the insurgents continue to reinforce in the minds of the Afghan people a mindset that coalition forces are either ineffective, or at least that their presence in Afghanistan is not in their interest. That does not happen all of the time. There are times when they feel differently, but you have to put things in that context to understand what we must do.

Look, I think McChrystal is wedded to his policy, and as a general he's not exactly used to being wrong. He talks about protecting the civilian population but he hasn't done much of a job to that end. He thinks that, with the proper amount of troops, he can protect the Afghanis and yield a better future.

The White House is not on the same timeline, nor do they have the same single-minded focus. By design they necessarily have to think about the overall national security implications, the strength of the military, and the financial and human cost. And there are more and more signs that they don't consider the costs to be worth it.

Senior White House officials have begun to make the case for a policy shift in Afghanistan that would send few, if any, new combat troops to the country and instead focus on faster military training of Afghan forces, continued assassinations of al-Qaeda leaders and support for the government of neighboring Pakistan in its fight against the Taliban.

In a three-hour meeting Wednesday at the White House, senior advisers challenged some of the key assumptions in Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's blunt assessment of the nearly eight-year-old war, which President Obama has said is being fought to destroy al-Qaeda and its allies in Afghanistan and the ungoverned border areas of Pakistan.

McChrystal, commander of the 100,000 NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has asked Obama to quickly endorse his call for a change in military strategy and approve the additional resources he needs to retake the initiative from the resurgent Taliban.

But White House officials are resisting McChrystal's call for urgency, which he underscored Thursday during a speech in London, and questioning important elements of his assessment, which calls for a vast expansion of an increasingly unpopular war. One senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the meeting, said, "A lot of assumptions -- and I don't want to say myths, but a lot of assumptions -- were exposed to the light of day."

Among them, according to three senior administration officials who attended the meeting, is McChrystal's contention that the Taliban and al-Qaeda share the same strategic interests and that the return to power of the Taliban would automatically mean a new sanctuary for al-Qaeda.

McChrystal met with Obama this morning. I don't know if all this got across, but the President does hold the cards in this debate. It may be politically difficult to go against the advice of the generals, but the people are on his side.

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