Churchill once said to President Roosevelt, “Give us the tools and we will finish the job.” It appears that President Obama has reached or is fast approaching that moment in Afghanistan, the war he has declared a war of necessity, for what else could one call it than a “crisis” when the nation’s top field commander threatens to resign if he doesn’t get the support he needs?
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
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.”
I was going to write a long post analyzing and criticizing the White House’s unconscionable vacillation in our commitment to victory in Afghanistan (though that vacillation in any recent conflict seems to be a feature, not a bug, of the Democratic Party), but I really cannot do better than this piece by Baseball Crank, which I urge you to read.
Presidents have often had trouble with generals, of course. Truman famously had to fire MacArthur for insubordination, but found a superb (and superior) replacement in Ridgway. Lincoln ran through generals like a man changes socks until he found a group that was not only competent, but would actually fight.
But President Obama doesn’t have President Lincoln’s problem. General McChrystal is highly regarded and quite willing to fight. But, to implement the counterinsurgency strategy he recommends (and which is supported by his boss, General Petraeus, the guy who saved Iraq), he needs more troops, the request for which the article at Baseball Crank reminds us generated shocking warnings of a WTF moment at the White House.
The question then becomes “How committed is the White House to victory in the war it declared a ‘necessity?’” Or was this, as a prominent liberal blogger declared, “…a political strategy, not a serious foreign policy?” To turn Churchill’s statement into a question and ask it for General McChrystal, “Will you give us the tools to finish the job, Mr. President?”
Or will Americans be left asking “WTF?”