Obama’s MacArthur Moment? McChrystal Disses Biden

Gen. Stanley McChrystal is apologizing for remarks he made in a Rolling Stone interview denigrating Vice President Joe Biden and US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry.

McChrystal is said to have asked “Who’s that?” at the mention of Joe Biden’s name, and to have suggested that Amb. Eikenberry leaked memos critical of McChrystal’s planned counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan because he wanted to cover himself against harsh criticism if the war went badly wrong. His staffers, interviewed for the piece, were even more derisive of Obama insiders.

President Obama absolutely must fire McChrystal for insubordination. You can’t have the office of the vice presidency disrespected in public by a general in uniform that way. Nor is it plausible that the Obama team has a prayer of getting Afghanistan right, assuming such a thing is possible, if the commanding military officer and the ambassador are feuding like the Baizai and the Ranizai.

Obama has largely misunderstood the historical moment in the US. He appears to have thought that we wanted a broker, someone who could get everyone together and pull off a compromise that led to a deal among the parties. We don’t want that. We want Harry Truman. We want someone who will give them hell. We don’t want him to say one day that Wall Street is making obscene profits when the rest of the country suffers, then the next day say that the brokers deserve their bonuses. We don’t want him to mollify Big Oil one day then bash it the next. More consistent giving of hell, please.

If Obama doesn’t fire McChrystal, he will never be respected by anybody in the chain of command that leads to his desk. Moreover, moving McChrystal out now would be a perfect opportunity to pull the plug on the impractical counter-insurgency campaign that the latter has been pursuing, which probably has only a 10% chance of success. (A RAND study found that where a government that claimed to be a democracy actually was not, and where it faced an insurgency, it prevailed only 10% of the time. Sounds like President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan to me.)

President Truman got to the point in the Korean War where he was willing to dicker with the Chinese and to recognize the 38th parallel as an armistice line between South Korea and the north. MacArthur kept rejecting such talks and baited the Chinese. Truman fired him. Obama has to be made of that Trumanian stuff if he wants to turn the country around. We aren’t out of the woods. There could be a double dip in the economy, or a long-term Japan-style post-bubble stagnation. Wall Street is still taking us to the cleaners and getting their capital gains taxed at 15% when it is being alleged there isn’t enough tax money to cover the needs of the rest of us. The Supreme Court is undermining the Bill of Rights, criminalizing speech and association, and gutting campaign finance reform by favoring corporations as persons. Big Oil is openly fouling our environment and Big Gas is doing the same thing more quietly. And the military industrial complex has us mired in forever wars that we can’t win and can’t afford.

The Rolling Stone interview must have somehow spun out of control– McChrystal can’t possibly have planned out such a brain-dead counter-insurgency campaign against the vice president’s offices in the Naval Observatory beforehand. Presumably McChrystal did the interview because he is afraid he is being undermined in Washington. The left wing of the Democratic Party wants out of Afghanistan, in part because they don’t think the country can afford the war any more. Powerful critics of McChrystal’s approach are said to be gaining President Obama’s ear as it has failed to produce quick and tangible results. McChystal may have thought he would have an opportunity to appeal directly to the young staffers who make so much happen on Capitol Hill.

Mark Ambinder at the Atlantic reminds us that McChrystal’s feud with Eikenberry goes back to the days when McChrystal was commander of JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, and ordered his men into Afghanistan in 2005 to carry out a covert op of which Gen. Eikenberry disapproved. Rumors of JSOC cowboyism and even illegalities have swirled for years.

A great irony is that McChrystal and Eikenberry appear to have traded places five years later, with McChrystal favoring big conventional military operations and Eikenberry urging that the US make do with small targeted counter-terrorism strikes.

The most recent roots of this grudge match go back to the dispute within the Obama administration last year over how to deal with Afghanistan. Eikenberry, a former general, had been one of McChrystal’s predecessors as commander of US troops in Afghanistan. And Biden had spent decades either chairing or being ranking minority member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. These seasoned observers of Central and South Asia concluded that the best the US could do in Afghanistan was small-scale targeted counter-terrorism. Counter-terrorism implies intelligence work, deployment of special operations forces against small, specific targets, and use of air strikes and drones. Biden is said to have suggested getting most US troops out of Afghanistan and just striking at al-Qaeda wherever it popped up, especially in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

In contrast, McChrystal’s plan called for counter-insurgency, which implies large-scale conventional military campaigns, to “take, clear, hold and build.” That is, the US troops would take territory now held by insurgents, would clear it of Taliban or other militants, would hold it for the medium or long term so as to reassure local elders that they were in no danger from returning Taliban, and would use the opportunity to build infrastructure and services. Biden’s target was the largely Arab, foreign al-Qaeda, organized as small terrorist cells; but McChrystal wanted to root out the Taliban and their new Mujahidin allies, a much larger force that had roots in Pashtun society in a way that al-Qaeda does not. McChrystal’s plan required a massive troop escalation and the conquest by the US of large swathes of Pashtun territory in the southeast and southwest of the country. The hope was that while the US did counter-insurgency on a large scale, NATO and US troops would be training and equipping a large Afghanistan National Army of 200,000 and a similarly sized police force, and that in a few years the country could be turned over to them.

Eikenberry worried, in cables later leaked, that going beyond counter-terrorism to large-scale counter-insurgency was impractical because:

  • A big US troop escalation would have the effect of actually making the Afghanistan security forces more dependent on the US, not less, and so significantly delay the day when they could or would step up to security duties on their own;
  • A large-scale counter-insurgency campaign requires a strong Afghan political partner for the ‘hold’ and ‘build’ phases. But there is no such partner. President Hamid Karzai stole the presidential election last year, and is notoriously unreliable. The Afghanistan National Army will not soon be able to take over from the US troops as they take and clear wide swathes of territory.

    Obama backed McChrystal against Biden and Eikenberry, but threw McChrystal a curve ball by talking about beginning a troop withdrawal in summer of 2011 (thus taking a little piece of the Biden plan and inserting it awkwardly in the middle of Gen. McChrystal’s years-long counter-insurgency struggle– and thus inevitably undermining the latter).

    Both the Biden/ Eikenberry and the McChrystal approaches have drawbacks. Counter-terrorism focusing like a laser on al-Qaeda would be largely irrelevant now in Afghanistan, where there is virtually no al-Qaeda. But that policy is being pursued in the tribal belt in Pakistan, alienating the Pakistani public because the drones often also kill innocent civilians. And, a rapid draw-down of US troops in favor of newly trained Afghan recruits may not be practical, given the poor esprit de corps, illiteracy, drug use, corruption and over-representation of minorities in the Afghanistan National Army and police. What would happen if, as the US drew down, the provinces around Kabul started swiftly falling to the Taliban or allied insurgents?

    I know one Afghan scholar who for years went back and forth consulting with the Karzai government, who is convinced that if the US and NATO suddenly pulled up stakes, the Karzai government would fall within 3 days. Whatever you think of President Karzai, the prospect of him being hanged by Mulla Omar is hard to contemplate with equanimity.

    On the other hand, McChrystal’s plan is in my view far too ambitious and likely completely impractical. It assumes that the Pashtuns want US Marines in their villages and would prefer them to the Taliban or other insurgents (most of whom are actually from the same tribes as and therefore cousins to these villagers). It assumes that the Kabul government can provide a ‘government in a box’ (in McChrystal’s words) to the provinces once the US military has conquered them. But Kabul is not well governed itself, much less being able swiftly to provide services and expertise in the provinces on demand. It assumes that the US push won’t alienate ever more Pashtuns, pushing them into the arms of the Taliban. It makes no distinction between Eastern and Western Pashtuns. And it assumes that an Afghanistan National Army of double the current size can be swiftly trained and deployed to replace the US troops as they move on to the next conquest. None of these assumptions is warranted, as is becoming clear in Helmand Province, where McChrystal’s demonstration project was the small farming villages of Marjah. It hasn’t gone as well as was initially suggested.

    McChrystal’s next Big Idea was to attack Taliban strongholds the major southwestern Pashtun city of Qandahar (pop. about 1 million). Such an operation is extremely dangerous. If urban Pashtuns were alienated by it, they could go over to the insurgency in much greater numbers. (Right now, the Pashtuns are probably split 80-20 in favor of Karzai against the Taliban, but the US could easily push the rest of the Pashtuns into the arms of the insurgents if it isn’t careful. That would set the stage for another Afghanistan Civil War, since the northern ethnic groups– Tajiks, Hazarahs, Uzbeks, etc., absolutely despise the Taliban).

    Afghanistan is a mess and likely will go on being a mess. It is the fifth poorest country in the world, is a major center of opium production and trafficking, has been wracked by decades of war (for much of which Washington is responsible), has a literacy rate of only 28%, and suffers from poor infrastructure and weak, corrupt, inefficient government. Its most troubled regions are populated by tribal people who have it as a code of honor to engage in feuds, and some of what the US sees as insurgency is just ordinary feuding. Tribes fall out with each other, and fight for a while until they make up. That way of life will eventually subside, when people become more settled, urban, and educated. But that day is a ways off for most Pashtuns.

    In the meantime, I think counter-terrorism in Afghanistan is the right policy, though I think the drone strikes on Pakistani territory are very problematic and concur with those CIA officers who hold that they do more harm than good.

    What you need in Afghanistan is a way of keeping the government from falling while you train up the new security forces (which must be put in a position where they either stand and fight or risk destruction– without the ability to depend on US infantrymen). I think this minimalist goal can be achieved via counter-terrorism. The counter-insurgency campaign was a dead end.

  • Posted in Afghanistan | 51 Responses | Print |

    51 Responses

    1. Juan says ‘Right now, the Pashtuns are probably split 80-20 in favor of Karzai against the Taliban’. If that’s the case (but is it???) then surely Karzai – if he also has the support of the Northern Alliance, and of Iran, and (and he seems to be working on this at present) of Pakistan – must be in with a chance if he can only distance himself from NATO, which is what he seems to want to do, and make a deal with the Taliban. If he really has that level of support among the Pashtun then he is surely the only person who could prevent Afghanistan collapsing into a Somali like chaos and civil war when (and it is a matter of ‘when’) NATO leaves.

    2. Dr. Cole, your post said it all.

      Obama has no coherent Afghanistan policy. Before he fires McChrystal, and I agree he must, Obama needs to figure out what he is going to do. Biden’s suggestion is sound if for no other reason than it gets most US troops out of Afghanistan.

      Obama needs to decide a lot of things. I agree he needs to channel Truman, and deciding about Afghanistan would be a great start.

    3. Rahm Emmanuel won’t let Obama fire McChrystal.

      Of course, Obama campaigned on expanding the war in Af/Pak and he has kept his word. Every US president aspires to be a “war president” because the public has been conditioned that war is good and the US is strong.

      Hopefully Af/Pak and GWOT revives the “Vietnam Syndrome” in the public. But I doubt it. Financial collapse will come first, like the USSR.

    4. There is the detail of what Obama wants. Yes, the Supreme Court is trashing free speech and ruling i nfavor of impunity for torturers and other criminals, but have you noticed whose lawyers have been asking them to?

      Obama is heartily in favor of torture, kidnapping, extra-judicial assassination, holding people forever because they’re not guilty of anything and therefore can’t be convicted in a real court, enriching the banksters at the expense of the rest of us, and a few other things like that. The people who were indignant when Bush and Cheney were doing them are now making excuses for Obama or magically thinking he doesn’t mean it really.

    5. “President Obama absolutely must fire McChrystal for subordination. ”

      The good professor apparently hasn’t caught on to how this works yet.

      If McChrystal was attacking BarryO from the left he would have undoubtedly been fired the nano-second word of this article leaked.

      As it is McChrystal is attacking from the right, which no doubt means BarryO will soon attack Iran so as to prove his right-wing meddle.

      And no, this isn’t hyperbole…

    6. The complexity of your post shows how foolish it is to try and nation build rather than target surgical strikes against specific al-qaeda personnel wherever they live (which is hundreds of countries). The 9/11 hijackers planned in Germany, came from Saudi Arabia and took flight training in Florida and no one’s talking about invading those areas.

    7. Dear Professor Cole.

      The Guardian is reporting that General McCrystal has been recalled to Washington.

      They also report that Sir Sherard Cooper Cowles has gone on leave in protest at differences in opinion over strategy.

      link to guardian.co.uk

      It is quite horrifying that these disputes among the senior command resemble Kabul 1842.

      That Episode ended at Gandamak with the last stand of the 44th regiment.

      link to google.co.uk

      Note to company grade officers: Captain Souter wrapped his regimental colour around his waist and was taken prisoner because he looked like he would command a ransom.

    8. Excellent intervention.

      For comic relief, I can’t resist quoting Truman’s immortal words on MacArthur:
      link to time.com

      “I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.”

      • Another point is that MacArthur publicly opposed Truman’s policies, while McChrystal publicly attacked Obama and the Administration personally. Which is worse?

    9. This could be very interesting. As you know, when Truman fired him, the country gave MacArthur a ticker-tape parade and Congress gave him a forum to criticize Truman’s policies. McChrystal is not the national hero MacArthur was, of course, and firing him should be a no-brainer that doesn’t involve much political risk, except for the fact that the Republicans are bound to start bellowing “who lost South Asia and the Middle East?” as soon as Southern Iraq falls to Iran and the Taliban return to power in Afghanistan. McChrystal has been recalled to DC to “explain” himself. I think that people who advocate the Biden plan for Afghanistan may be missing the possibility — in fact, the probability — that we will follow up on the targeted strikes with muscle on the scale of “shock and awe” if the Taliban regain control of the country.

    10. The McChrystal moment is more Fletcher Knebel Seven Days in May than MacArthur.

    11. I suggest that the answer to our dilemma is to be found by a return to the law, a course that Dr. Cole has advocated.
      The particular law that we should begin with is Public Law 107-40, which set into legalistic stone the insane mantra that the US military would prevent future terrorism by enemies to be named later by a President. I suggest that this is a real problem.
      The US military, by law, must prevent future terrorism by al-Qaeda and the Taliban. This goal, this victory condition, is impossible to achieve. America is trapped in a war against future enemies.
      There is no victory possible and defeat is unmentionable (until the casualties mount up too high to ignore).
      There are no exit strategies under the rules – therefore the rules must be changed, to allow a possible exit strategy. Public Law 107-40 has been ignored for 9 years, and look at where we are.

      I further suggest that we stop referring to this insanity as any of the following:
      the global war on terror
      the war on terror
      the war in afghanistan
      the war in afghanistan that is also fought in pakistan, or
      the separate war in pakistan
      the long war
      the war against terrorists
      the war against al-qaeda in all the different countries where we fight them
      the war against islamo-fascism

      We should call it what it is – the DAFT war, Defense against Future Terrorism

    12. Thank you, so much, Prof. Cole, for giving us a clear, jargon-free, bulls-eye analysis of the multi-layered catastrophe that is our Afghanistan situation. Your essay is a stand alone masterpiece, needing no prior study by the reader. Yet, drawing on my own reading, I sense that Hopkirk’s Great Game continues as we have assumed Britain’s role as Russia’s rival, and our oil industry warriors (Cheney, et al) have successfully committed the US armed forces to the pipeline wars. And now, untold mineral wealth beckons us to blast out those Afghan mountains…

    13. Forgive me, but I am not willing to accept a Vietnam rationale for being in Afghanistan. I want us out and now. If we are worried about Karzai, then take him with us when we leave. We are not being threatened by Afghanistan, so leave and leave now.

    14. In a rare moment of agreement, both thoughtful left-wing and right-wing blogs agree: Gen. McCrystal must go. Success or the lack thereof is not a criterion in enforcing military subordination to the National Command Authority. There are no, “Yes, but” defenses of the general’s conduct.

      However, on the completely separate issue of better understanding Obama’s conduct of the Afghan War, there is considerable value in not discounting McCrystal’s comments. When available in full, the RS interview needs to be read carefully. Based on excerpts, the one conclusion I’ve drawn is that whatever the merits of a COIN vs. a counterterrorist strategy, this administration is not up to the demands of prosecuting the former. Based on McCrystal’s retelling, it seems to lack the constancy and executive experience to oversee this most difficult of strategies.

      Two assets are needed to conduct COIN warfare properly: a COIN strategy that fits the political, demographic and geographic terrain, and COIN operators that are sufficiently unified, expert, and have the will to do it. McCrystal’s career-ending gaffe casts doubt on this second set of preconditions.

    15. As for McChrystal, he should have been fired long ago for undermining the President and Vice President from England when the surge was being discussed in the White House. McChrystal must be fired at once.

      • Actually even earlier – for covering up circumstances of Tilman’s death and for prisoner abuse in Gitmo and in Iraq.

    16. It shows a high degree of recklessness when an experienced general chooses to challenge his Commander-in-chief. It should wave a huge flag as to his fitness to command. And a retraction or apology under duress does nothing to undo the challenge. The CIC doesn’t have a hair on his ass if he doesn’t banish the challenger.

    17. I’m sure someone else will post this, but it was mentioned in the CNN article’s comments:

      UCMJ Article 88

      link to army.mil

      “Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct. “

    18. The problem with MacArthur was that he repeatedly undercut Truman. I think if Mac had shut up (in public at least) after the first couple of incidents, and particularly after Truman flew halfway around the world to meet him at Wake Island, Truman may not have forgiven and forgotten, but at least not fired him. So if McChrystal apologizes abjectly enough–and doesn’t do it again–maybe he can keep his job.
      For a more recent incident, my fellow New Jerseyan Adm. William Fallon was forced to resign as Central Command commander for sort of criticizing Bush’s Iran policy.

    19. Are we keeping 100,000 troops in the field, killing hundreds of Afghan civilians, destabilizing Pakistan and breaking the US treasury to the point that the president is thinking of cutting Social Security to keep Mr Karzai from being hanged by Mullah Omar? In a just world Karzai would be in prison instead of sitting on a throne.

    20. President Obama absolutely must fire McChrystal” imho, The President should not need to relieve from duty this incompetent officer (for an act of apparent insubordination against the Constitutional civilian leadership of U.S. armed forces). Either General Petraeus or Admiral Mullen should remove General McChrystal from operational chain -of- command for engineering what will be recognized and recorded as one of the greatest military debacles in American military history.

    21. Curiously, you have not harped on the horrible casualties, dead, mutilated and mentally scarred that are sustained by our forces. For what? To save the face of politicians who have made a criminal mistake in pursuing the unattainable (as they also did in Iraq). It would be much better to admit a mistake and possibly lose face rather than to continue to sacrifice the lives and bodies of our young people. The decision to withdraw should be taken now. Mr Micawber’s hopes do not amount to a strategy.

    22. At some level McC must’ve known he was pushing things by speaking this way to a reporter from….of all places….Rolling Stone. It would be a way, if he gets away with it, of showing who’s Boss, and whether he has the free-hand and authority he would obviously think essential to do the job. Or maybe he wants to get himselve canned, rather than face the failure that he may sense looming in Kandahar. Or just maybe, the quote from Truman about dumb (and arrogant, in my experience) generals, is probably more on the mark. But put this all in context:

      Obama was neutered on healthcare; juked off his feet on Too-Big-To-Fail; and (possibly) has been finessed by a single foreign oil company. He has nowhere shown the sort of leadership that leads from the front with the full authority of the office. He’s been hesitant, preferring to use a consensus-driven approach, that at least in purely executive situations is totally inappropriate. Clinton’s mistake with Healthcare was in NOT coopting the Congress in his (her) plan, so we can forgive Obama for that approach, but the Gulf Mess and Foreign Policy DEMAND direct executive action. He’s got to step up to the plate and show he’s got this essential ability. Now is the time, having been there over a year. If he doesn’t show he’s up to the job, he’ll spend the rest of his term twisting in the wind.

    23. I absolutely agree with you, professor Cole, regarding what Obama’s action against MacChrystal SHOULD be.

      But let’s also remember the reaction against Truman, his popularity rating at the end of his presidency (only Nixon and “W” have been lower), and the relationship between the two.

      I’m sorely afraid that Obama is FAR more interested in keeping his office than doing his job (sorry, Michael Douglas). Truman did what he did out of a far nobler perspective than seems no longer possible in the “modern” presidency. Obama will NOT fire MacChrystal because he’s afraid of the reaction from Republicans and the effect it might have on his personal popularity (as if they don’t/won’t criticize him for anything/everything he does). Or, worse yet, he’ll hem and haw and eventually “ask for his resignation,” or some such other mealy-mouthed half-measure.

      Many things disappoint me about our current president, but most of all is his continuing (seeming) lack of governing ability, especially when compared to his pre-election rhetoric. This case will be no exception.

    24. This isn’t Obama’s MacArthur moment because McChrystal is not MacArthur. MacArthur was the hero of the war in the Pacific, the military governor of Japan, the strategist whose brilliance saved the American side from a total wipe-out in Korea. McChrystal has no such track record of success. He’s reputed to be a counter-terrorism expert, but it isn’t going well for him in Afghanistan. He’s insubordinate like MacArthur, but he’s far more replaceable than MacArthur. This means that Obama will pay a far lower price for firing him than Truman did. If, on the other hand, he keeps his job, it will mean that Obama has abdicated, that he’s essentially no longer in charge, that his job is reduced to getting Congress to deliver funds for whatever the Pentagon wants to do, while the Pentagon openly works to help the Republicans they are more comfortable with back into office.

    25. McChrystal can see failure in the wind and doesn’t what his name attached to it. What better way out than to be removed by a Democratic president. Then would follow the eternal ’stabbed in the back’ narrative as to why the war was lost (NB stabbed in the back narratives date from WWI and probably are eternal)

    26. “We want Harry Truman.” – Who was unable to deliver peace or victory. In Korea peace was achieved through a high body count and lack of motion along the front.

    27. I’ve been listening to the news about McC offering an apology for “poor judgement”, and having read the more current posts think everyone is right about what Obama should do versus what he likely will do. It really will be a telling moment. If Obama chooses to accept such an apology, he will be saying he is OK with the underlying sentiment, which McC was sorry to have voiced. Doing so would speak eloquently to Obama’s underlying spinlessness.

      In fairness, Obama can be excused for the outcome on healthcare, where he arguably played his cards as well as possible. This, however, will be a test of his executive judgement: he CANNOT afford to have an indispensible general, or be perceived too weak to execute his perogatives. There is entirely too much evidence of that already. As demonstrated by the recent meeting with Netanyahu, the world has already recognized his effeteness. Obama now has thean opportunity to either reaffirm that perception, or grow up and be the President of the US, versus the local PTA.

    28. Some posters have mentioned past experiences of imperial powers in Afghanistan. Here’s another instructive parallel. Holidaying in Scotland earlier this month I started reading Dr Johnson’s account of his journey to the Western Isles of Scotland in 1773.

      The text is here:

      link to gutenberg.org

      and I recommend you all to read the section headed “The Highlands”, which begins:
      “Mountainous countries commonly contain the original, at least the oldest race of inhabitants, for they are not easily conquered, because they must be entered by narrow ways, exposed to every power of mischief from those that occupy the heights; and every new ridge is a new fortress, where the defendants have again the same advantages. If the assailants either force the strait, or storm the summit, they gain only so much ground; their enemies are fled to take possession of the next rock, and the pursuers stand at gaze, knowing neither where the ways of escape wind among the steeps, nor where the bog has firmness to sustain them: besides that, mountaineers have an agility in climbing and descending distinct from strength or courage, and attainable only by use.

      If the war be not soon concluded, the invaders are dislodged by hunger; for in those anxious and toilsome marches, provisions cannot easily be carried, and are never to be found. The wealth of mountains is cattle, which, while the men stand in the passes, the women drive away. Such lands at last cannot repay the expence of conquest, and therefore perhaps have not been so often invaded by the mere ambition of dominion; as by resentment of robberies and insults, or the desire of enjoying in security the more fruitful provinces.

      As mountains are long before they are conquered, they are likewise long before they are civilized. Men are softened by intercourse mutually profitable, and instructed by comparing their own notions with those of others. Thus Cæsar found the maritime parts of Britain made less barbarous by their commerce with the Gauls. Into a barren and rough tract no stranger is brought either by the hope of gain or of pleasure. The inhabitants having neither commodities for sale, nor money for purchase, seldom visit more polished places, or if they do visit them, seldom return….”

    29. Juan:

      Thanks for the piece. Good summary overall. Yes, McChrystal must go in a Truman McCarthur-like moment for Obama. Counter-insurgency, nation building, putting an Afghan “face” on a US war will simply not do. The Afghan army and police forces are both corrupt and compromised. It’s time to leave and commit money towards reconstruction and aid.

    30. McChrystal’s behavior should come as no surprise to Obama. After all, he is the same cowboy who went off the reservation in Iran, making him a favorite of Bush and Cheney. Even as a young cadet at West Point, he showed a special talent for indiscipline. According to the RS article, he “accumulated more than 100 hours of demerits for drinking, partying and insubordination – a record that his classmates boasted made him a ‘century man.'”

      What McChrystal should be fired for is the failure of his so-called “strategy” to do anything but speed-up the inevitable loss of the war in Afghanistan…

    31. The Empire slowly destroys itself. Are there really rational human beings who think this will turn out allright?

    32. The most rational explanation to why Obama is continuing many of the Bush era policies he previously criticized, is that the military is calling the shots rather than the president.

      Obama has a chance to take this event, and use it as an opportunity to re-assert control. He should walk back many of the detention, habeus, rendition, miltiary tribunals, secrecy, etc policies that he has recently embraced.

      And he should cut. cut, cut the military mission and the military spending that we can no longer afford.

      All these soldiers can be redeployed at home in an Army Corps of Engineers types of roles.

      • Wonderful idea but it won’t happen. O keeps him to take the fall when it all fails and that can’t be to far down the trail. Sad we should just get the hell out of all of the wars and the 900 plus bases we’ve built.
        Thanks Juan loud and very clear.

      • So the military is also calling the shots on financial reform, health care, civil liberties, education, and environmental policy? Because Obama mirrors Bush in those ways as well. Obama’s policies are neoconservative policies. That makes him a neocon. Stop apologizing.

    33. Maybe McChrystal is looking for a future move into politics……I get the feeling there’s plenty of ex military types who recon they know just what the USA ( and the rest of us who have to share Earth too) need, and they’d have plenty of backing.

    34. Agreed, Janine. Already I can see the headlines: “McChrystal Announces Presidential Bid as Thousands Cheer”

    35. Fine analysis, but speaking as a former Special Forces officer I have one small correction: the COIN strategy being “applied” in Afghanistan is Legionaire Petraeus’ baby, not McChrystal’s. McChrystal is merely the nanny and activity scheduler. Nothing in McChrystal’s background shows any experience or expertise or capability in counterinsurgency. Counterterrorism is not counterinsurgency. Something to look into.

      The wisdom of executing a counterterror strategy in the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and Africa is another issue.


    36. Prof. Cole’s, your argument is thoughtful and cogent.

      That said, a few caveats:

      a) i have no idea how you know what you do about Pashtuns’ minute-by-minute loyalties–where do these figures come from (and, if there’s a source, how do we access it, please?)

      b) clearly, McChrystal has to go… but… as other readers have mentioned, if he succeeds in weaving a ‘stabbed in the back’ narrative, and Obama continues to flail in the wind, McChrystal would, in fact, make a rather fearsome Presidential candidate in the next round of elections. From a purely Machiavellian point of view–as distasteful as it may be–demoting, and then successfully tarring McChrystal with a full-on scandal, would almost be better than a dramatic Truman moment. This also makes sense from a utilitarian perspective, if you agree that, in an imaginary future under (Vice-)President McChrystal, his favoured war on ‘insurgency’ would likely cause far greater loss of life (and resources) in the long run than most other alternatives. Worth contemplation.

      and c) Yes, “the thought of Karzai being hanged by Mullah Omar is hard to contemplate with equanimity.” That said, Kabul could ‘fall’ without Karzai being hung, so to speak. The Shah made it out, didn’t he? …. and yes, a (re)-Talibanization of a post-NATO Afghanistan could spell disaster for Pakistan. But it could also create a stabilizing presence, and coherent negotiating partner, in the inter-border Pashtun hinterland.

      After having invested so much time, energy and blood, in Afghanistan, a cut-and-run script is deeply troubling, agreed (even for us non-American NATO partners).

      However, it’s essentially a sunk cost. Pulling out (or drastically changing strategy) may well be the best long-run choice, even given the unpredictable side-effects of appearing to have ‘failed’ in Afghanistan. After all, the latter is amenable to mitigation–spin has a purpose. While often used to cover-up ineptitude, if done right, crafting a slick PR narrative could be used for good in such a case, re-framing a NATO withdrawal as a principled refusal to defend a corrupt kleptocracy (ie Karzai), particularly if coupled with publicly successful negotiations with “Pashtun” (aka ‘Taliban’) leaders…

      There may well be no ‘solution’ to this horrendous conundrum, but, if we step back and think about just *what it is* we’re trying to solve (save lives, spread ‘democracy,’ prevent ‘terrorism’…or save face?), it can help create space for innovative strategizing. My two cents, anyway.

    37. It always stinks to fire someone because he said the truth. We all know that Biden is a mopping rug of the Israeli lobby so what McChrystal said was just a polite understatement. I sometimes think that Russians criticize Putin more than Americans dare to criticize their tyrannical big lobbies. Washington is a byzantine court and the American President is helpless against the elite. Face it, American style democracy is a failure, that why it’s no exception to the rule that democracies don’t seek wars. Like us, you love to attack other countries and I guess we will go down together.

    38. […] force should, in turn, develop the sort of contempt for civilians that can be seen in the recent flap over the derogatory comments of Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal and his aides about […]

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