On Obama, McChrystal, and Petraeus

June 23, 2010

As I expected, President Obama has relieved General McChrystal of his command in Afghanistan:

President Obama named Gen. David Petraeus as top commander in Afghanistan on Wednesday after he relieved Gen. Stanley McChrystal for disparaging comments McChrystal and his staff had made about senior administration officials in a magazine article.

Petraeus, currently McChrystal’s boss as head of Central Command, needs to be confirmed by the Senate before he can assume the job. He is widely credited with turning the tide of the war in Iraq with a counterinsurgency strategy he authored. As Obama’s third top commander in Afghanistan, he will be expected to repeat his Iraq success.

“Make no mistake,” Obama said. “We have a clear goal. We are going to break the Taliban’s momentum.”

“This is a change in personnel, but it is not a change in policy,” Obama said Wednesday in a Rose Garden appearance.

Obama said he accepted McChrystal’s resignation because his conduct “does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general.”

And he’s right. McChrystal showed very bad judgment in granting that interview, letting his staff disparage the civilian leadership, and then doing nothing to repair things when allowed to review it. As Chuck DeVore, himself a retired Lt. Colonel in the US Army Reserve, pointed out, McChrystal was in violation of Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. For the sake of the office of the President and not just for himself, Obama had to accept McChrystal’s resignation.

The choice of General Petraeus to replace him is surprising, but, I think, a very good one. Not only was Petraeus the architect of victory in Iraq, but he has a well-deserved reputation for being able to handle the political and diplomatic challenges his new duties with throw at him, not the least of which being the very touchy Afghan President, Hamid Karzai. In other words, he carries both substantial military and political credibility.

He’ll need every bit of it, too. The current offensive is not going well, the Taliban is building momentum, the Afghan government is unsure they can rely on us, and this brouhaha over McChrystal has to hurt morale in the Afghan theater.  While it seems unusual for general to step down from a position with global responsibilities (in Petraeus’ case, head of Central Command)  to resume a field command, I believe he is perhaps the only general to possess what the Romans called auctoritas – the needed prestige, clout, and authority to do what needs to be done.

So here are some rare words of praise from me for the President: he did what needed to be done, he didn’t dither, he chose probably the best man to take over, and he recommitted his Administration to the fight. (Unavoidable grumble: I wish he had used the word “victory.”)

Let’s hope that good for us and for Afghanistan comes from this fiasco.

LINKS: More from Hot Air, with a compare and contrast video presentation, and from Michael Barone. The Anchoress has a round-up of reactions to the dismissal of McChrystal and the return of Petraeus.

Advertisements

Obama should fire General McChrystal

June 22, 2010

Those aren’t easy words for me to write, but the President has no choice after his field commander in Afghanistan aired scathing criticisms of the administration and the President himself in an interview with, unbelievably, Rolling Stone:

The top U.S. war commander in Afghanistan is being called to the White House for a face-to-face meeting with President Obama after issuing an apology Tuesday for an interview in which he described the president as unprepared for their first encounter.

In the article in this week’s issue of Rolling Stone, Gen. Stanley McChrystal also said he felt betrayed and blind-sided by his diplomatic partner, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, as he and his aides took shots at other top officials.

McChrystal’s comments are reverberating through Washington and the Pentagon after the magazine depicted him as a lone wolf on the outs with many important figures in the Obama administration.

It characterized him as unable to convince some of his own soldiers that his strategy can win the nation’s longest-running war and dejected that the president didn’t know about his commendable military record.

In Kabul on Tuesday, McChrystal issued a statement saying: “I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened.”

(via ST)

He’s damn right it should never have happened. Forget the venue (Rolling Stone? WTF?), one of the pillars of the American constitutionalism is absolute deference to and respect for the civilian chain of command on the part of the military. It’s something that’s been drilled into our officers for so long and so hard that it’s become almost reflexive. The President has a constitutional role as Commander in Chief, and for any military man to disparage publicly the President of the United States or his ambassadors is by extension to disparage the Constitution itself and carries the faint whiff of Caesarism.

“But what about the general’s rights of free speech,” one may ask. First, they were necessarily and voluntarily limited when he swore his oath and donned the uniform. No captain would tolerate being openly berated by a corporal, nor can any president tolerate being openly insulted (and that’s what it was) by his generals. The principles of chain of command and civilian  control demands severe discretion on the part of the military, and McChrystal violated that.

Second, he has reasonable avenues to make his complaints known: he can talk to his superiors directly, including the President. If that doesn’t work, he can testify before relevant committees of Congress to air his concerns. And if that doesn’t work, he can always resign and return to civilian life, reassuming his full right of free speech, and then blast away.

But to castigate the President in a magazine? That’s three strikes in one, general. You’re out.

As I wrote, it’s not easy for me to advocate the dismissal of General McChrystal. Not only does he have a heretofore honorable record, but, at first glance, I largely agree and sympathize with his criticisms. But his method of airing was unacceptably insubordinate. As President Truman did with General MacArthur, President Obama should fire General McChrystal.

And then, one hopes, he’ll replace him with a modern Matthew Ridgway.

RELATED: Byron York examines General McChrystal’s real offense and says it was just a matter of time before the general stuck his foot in his mouth. Jed Babbin argues that Obama cannot fire McChrystal. Meanwhile, Politico reports that McChrystal reviewed the Rolling Stone article and didn’t complain. Hmmm…

UPDATE: Rolling Stone has posted the article. Don’t forget, this isn’t the first time the general has spoken out of turn.


This can’t be good

January 13, 2010

A White House so paranoid and nervous that they’re blaming their handpicked (and highly respected) general for the slowness of the surge deployment to Afghanistan?

The Blame Game – Part XXVI

“WASHINGTON — Senior White House advisers are frustrated by what they say is the Pentagon’s slow pace in deploying 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and its inability to live up to an initial promise to have all of the forces in the country by next summer, senior administration officials said Friday. [snip]

One administration official said that the White House believed that top Pentagon and military officials misled them by promising to deploy the 30,000 additional troops by the summer. General McChrystal and some of his top aides have privately expressed anger at that accusation, saying that they are being held responsible for a pace of deployments they never thought was realistic, the official said.”

Ask yourself this: what possible motive would President Obama’s hand-picked general have for misleading the President about the pace of deployment to Afghanistan? There is none.

Now ask yourself what possible motive would the Obama administration would have for selling the public on a pace of military deployments that was unrealistic?

Yet we find administration sources accusing members of the United States military of lying to them in the pages of the New York Times. It’s more than tacky. More than dishnorable. It’s downright scary.

Yeah, you ain’t kidding. Click through to read also about the “speculation” that the intelligence community set Obama up to look bad by withholding information about the Pantybomber. Some of these guys must be wearing tinfoil hats:

Not that I think it’s impossible for elements of the intelligence community to sabotage an administration’s agenda, but typically this is done to conservative administrations. Witness all the leaks against the Bush policies, the controversy over the execrable Joe Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame, and the laughable 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that torpedoed Bush policy toward Iran and now is disavowed by the Obamatons.

In Obama the intelligence bureaucracy got the guy they wanted and, while they are very unhappy with Obama’s willingness to let his creature Holder torment them, the kinds of things they’re being accused of don’t fit the pattern.

And to accuse a well-regarded general of placing petty revenge ahead of the nation’s interests and his solders’ safety? Scary and crazy.

Sometimes I think Obama may be a replay of the worst of both Carter and Nixon.

(hat tip: Ed Driscoll)


Boot on boots on the ground

October 23, 2009

Afghanistan – what should we do? That’s the question that bedevils the Obama administration, even though the alleged Commander in Chief announced his decision for a counterinsurgency back in March to great fanfare, declaring the world’s safety was “at stake.” Then, having appointed a general to determine how that strategy would best be implemented, the President had a WTF moment when General McChrystal made it known he was going to ask for 40-50,000 more troops to implement that strategy. Now the White House has apparently decided to un-decide its March decision so it can again conduct a “top to bottom” review of Afghan policy in order to decide (again) on a strategy. (Much to the annoyance of Darth Vader Dick Cheney.)

Voices on the Right have supported an aggressive Afghan strategy to defeat al Qaeda and its Taliban allies (who are these days almost indistinguishable), but have differed sharply over how to do it. Some argue for a counterterrorism strategy, narrowly targeting al Qaeda with Special Forces and missile strikes and worrying far less about what they deride as “nation-building.” Others argue for a counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy that concentrates on protecting the Afghan population from the depredations of the Taliban, gaining their trust and cooperation, which would isolate the enemy and allow aggressive operations against them. Again, General McChrystal has recommended COIN.

Max Boot, a foreign policy and strategy analyst and former advisor to the McCain presidential campaign, argues for the COIN approach and believes in giving McChrystal all he wants and more. As part of his case, he cites the success already reached in small areas of Afghanistan with a limited COIN approach. There’s No Substitute for Troops on the Ground:

“I HOPE people who say this war is unwinnable see stories like this. This is what winning in a counterinsurgency looks like.”
Lt. Col. William F. McCollough, commander of the First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, is walking me around the center of Nawa, a poor, rural district in southern Afghanistan’s strategically vital Helmand River Valley. His Marines, who now number more than 1,000, arrived in June to clear out the Taliban stronghold. Two weeks of hard fighting killed two Marines and wounded 70 more but drove out the insurgents. Since then the colonel’s men, working with 400 Afghan soldiers and 100 policemen, have established a “security bubble” around Nawa.
Colonel McCollough recalls that when they first arrived the bazaar was mostly shuttered and the streets empty. “This town was strangled by the Taliban,” he says. “Anyone who was still here was beaten, taxed or intimidated.”
Today, Nawa is flourishing. Seventy stores are open, according to the colonel, and the streets are full of trucks and pedestrians. Security is so good we were able to walk around without body armor — unthinkable in most of Helmand, the country’s most dangerous province. The Marines are spending much of their time not in firefights but in clearing canals and building bridges and schools. On those rare occasions when the Taliban try to sneak back in to plant roadside bombs, the locals notify the Marines.
The key to success in Nawa — and in other key districts from Garmsir in the south to Baraki Barak in the center — has been the infusion of additional United States troops. The overall American force in Afghanistan has grown to 68,000 from 32,000 in 2008. That has made it possible to garrison parts of the country where few if any soldiers had been stationed before. Before the Marines arrived in Nawa, for instance, there were just 40 embattled British soldiers there.

“I HOPE people who say this war is unwinnable see stories like this. This is what winning in a counterinsurgency looks like.”

Lt. Col. William F. McCollough, commander of the First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, is walking me around the center of Nawa, a poor, rural district in southern Afghanistan’s strategically vital Helmand River Valley. His Marines, who now number more than 1,000, arrived in June to clear out the Taliban stronghold. Two weeks of hard fighting killed two Marines and wounded 70 more but drove out the insurgents. Since then the colonel’s men, working with 400 Afghan soldiers and 100 policemen, have established a “security bubble” around Nawa.

Colonel McCollough recalls that when they first arrived the bazaar was mostly shuttered and the streets empty. “This town was strangled by the Taliban,” he says. “Anyone who was still here was beaten, taxed or intimidated.”

Today, Nawa is flourishing. Seventy stores are open, according to the colonel, and the streets are full of trucks and pedestrians. Security is so good we were able to walk around without body armor — unthinkable in most of Helmand, the country’s most dangerous province. The Marines are spending much of their time not in firefights but in clearing canals and building bridges and schools. On those rare occasions when the Taliban try to sneak back in to plant roadside bombs, the locals notify the Marines.

The key to success in Nawa — and in other key districts from Garmsir in the south to Baraki Barak in the center — has been the infusion of additional United States troops. The overall American force in Afghanistan has grown to 68,000 from 32,000 in 2008. That has made it possible to garrison parts of the country where few if any soldiers had been stationed before. Before the Marines arrived in Nawa, for instance, there were just 40 embattled British soldiers there.

This mirrors the Coalition experience in Afghanistan, where small examples of counterinsurgency’s effectiveness foreshadowed the immense success of the “surge” strategy in 2007-08. And while it’s foolhardy to apply a program as a one-size-fits-all template without considering local conditions, the Marines’ experience at Nawa and elsewhere indicates that COIN could work in Afghanistan, too, if given enough time and resources.

But there are serious questions, largely revolving around the hold of Islam on the population: Can a COIN strategy genuinely separate the population from the Taliban and al Qaeda, who claim to be mujahideen, “holy warriors?” Or will they only claim to be on our side, but instead practice taqiyya (religiously sanctioned deception), taking the goodies we offer but helping their Muslim brethren, fellow members of the Ummah? (Which I suspect would be the argument of Robert Spencer, an expert on Islam who grants great weight to its hold on the believer.) If the latter, then COIN would be a waste. I suspect the answer lies somewhere in the middle and that it will come down to “how many are there of each.” How many will genuinely back us, as opposed to those playing us for infidel suckers?

Based on our experiences in Iraq and the success of small COIN projects in Afghanistan, such as at Nawa, and given the expertise of Generals McChrystal and Petraeus (Servator Respublicae Iraqi!), I’m inclined to support the COIN strategy as “not guaranteed, but well-worth trying.” Afghanistan is the land from which the attacks of September 11th, 2001, were launched, and we can ill-afford to let the Taliban and al Qaeda come to dominate it again.

You decided on counterinsurgency once already, Mr. President. Now, act like a commander-in-chief and stick to it.

Related Reading: As I said, there’s been an argument on the Right about counterinsurgency versus counterterrorism.  Following are links to five articles that I think capture this debate and are well-worth your time to read. All these authors are top-notch:

  • Andy McCarthy writes against COIN, arguing that it’s folly to attempt “…the unlikeliest of social-engineering experiments: bringing big, modern, collectivist, secular government to a segmented, corrupt, tribal Islamic society”
  • Ralph Peters contends angrily that COIN is crazy, and it’s getting our troops murdered.
  • Max Boot has his own angry answer to McCarthy, and says McChrystal’s COIN strategy is the only way to win in Afghanistan and that the last eight years prove it.
  • Frederick Kagan makes his own persuasive argument that counterinsurgency is the way to go and that counterterrorism’s kill-and-capture methods have been shown not to work in the long run.
  • Finally, McCarthy replies to his critics to say that, if you don’t understand Islamic ideology, you don’t understand the problem in Afghanistan.

The articles are best read in the order presented, I think.


Obama’s FDR moment

September 22, 2009

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?”

LINKS: Allahpundit; Ed Morrissey; PoliGazette.