HOWARD MEGDAL: So we’ve established that the guru of COIN, Stanley McChrystal, couldn’t sell it to his own troops, let alone to the Afghans. It is stated by our own CIA Director that there are “maybe 50-100″ al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Getting military cooperation from would-be allies is proving to be impossible due to the belief that the United States will begin to withdraw next year- which, given the lack of political will for this war, we almost certainly will be.
So I must say, I come away from this feeling like for all of his successes, the decision to re-double efforts in Afghanistan has to rank among Obama’s failures so far. And by delaying exit until July 2011 or beyond, rather than acknowledging that the circumstances have changed and beginning the withdrawal process immediately, he is only exacerbating this failure.
I am not one of those Obama supporters who was in any way surprised by his support for the war in Afghanistan, mind you. He made no secret of his plans to focus efforts there, and perhaps there was even a case to be made for the possibility of success at that point, given how much less we knew about the inabilities of Hamid Karzai and the lack of al Qaeda activity in Afghanistan.
But we now know that Hamid Karzai is no partner in the region, and believing he can be is silly. We know al Qaeda has simply reconstituted in Pakistan, and that nothing inherent about Afghanistan gives them a home base of operations. Furthermore, our attempts to retake parts of the country have largely failed or been postponed, so it isn’t as if we have any real success to spur us forward.
Against these long odds, the only case that seems to be made for remaining in Afghanistan is not knowing exactly what will happen if we withdraw. But with such overwhelming reasons among the knowns for getting out, and a fleeting question mark serving as justification for continuing… is that really the standard of proof we want to set for conducting a military campaign?
I didn’t vote for Barack Obama because he promised to get us out of Afghanistan. But I did vote for him so he’d recognize a hopeless situation, and spare American lives when presented with one. I’m still hopeful he’ll do the right thing, but a failure to pivot (at least publicly) following the McChrystal reckoning dimmed that hope a bit for me.
AKIE BERMISS: I see Howard’s dimmed hope and raise him a “so what else is new?”
I never really felt one way or another about General McChrystal but I have been extremely skeptical of the whole COIN conceptology. I am slightly less dubious about Obama’s intentions regarding the war in Afghanistan… but I am still very conflicted about it. I understand, however, that withdrawal is a delicate operation. If Obama had taken office and just said, “Ok — war’s over. Let’s go.” He’d never have recovered from the perceived weakness and lack of gravitas it would have bred. And so that leaves us with two certains: 1. we need to get the hell out of Afghanistan and 2. we can’t just up and leave. The trouble is that the strategies for leaving have often sounded like strategies for trying to rush a win now that the clock is running out.. Like its sudden death, or something.
So, in one respect, I am less worried about Obama’s choices to stay in the region. And I’m less worried about the number of Al Queada operatives that may be hiding out there. I’m not even so worried about Karzai’s utter incompetence and ethical inchoateness. What troubles me is that there doesn’t really seem to be any GOOD way of stopping the fight there. Morale is going to be low when soldiers who have seen their friends die and who have suffered themselves for so long (in this fight that has been sold to them as fight for freedom and the security of the United States) are told that we’re pulling out with out any real victory being declared. Its going to be tough to get the American public not to see this as cowardly and/or weak move on our part (we don’t really deal well with NOT winning things). And its going to be tough to leave the Afghan region alone with people like Karzai and the Taliban running it into the ground (in fact, it may be the very liberals calling for an end to the war who are, in a few years time, crying foul over human rights injustices in the region when things return to Afghan-normal).
What’s an executive to do? Well, whatever it is, I hope its a considered move. Probably there is no real right choice, but there may be a few workable options that can, at least, staunch the flow of money, lives, and concern that are being wasted in that war. One thing that won’t work, though, if for that executive’s subordinates to start mouthing off to the press about how intimidated they thing he is by the situation.
And truth be told, anyone who ISN’T intimidated by the situation is suspect as far as I’m concerned.
The other argument, that McChrystal wasn’t the person saying most of the more offensive things is fair. Except that the guy’s top aides were saying the most offensive things. And he wasn’t stopping them. He wasn’t maintaining order. And yet, he is supposed to be a General.
Where McChrystal himself fails big time in the Rolling Stone article is how he carries himself AS a General. He’s making snide remarks to himself and to his entourage about how little confidence he has in this administration. He’s acting like an utterly xenophobic prick in France. His motley crew of aides is supposed be some Sorkin-esque assemblage of bright minds and superior personalities, but they just sound like a bunch drinking buddies who share a stereotypical middle-American disdain for people they consider to be effete intellectuals. It is, in the words of todays use, a flaming hot disaster. There was very little about the General that seemed to betray any real competence for strategy or command. I’m not saying it should have been a puff piece that portrayed McChrystal as your typical, highly intelligent, thoroughly inspiring commander-type. But maybe if he’s not that at all, they should have stayed away from the interview all together. I mean, I kept thinking: if this is the guy who’s running the war effort, maybe we should get the hell out of there right now.
Admittedly, I like Obama and I think he is mostly doing the right things and under very difficult circumstances at home AND abroad. And, also, I have absolutely no sympathy for McChrystal — he screwed up big time. And so maybe that makes my take on things a bit suspect as well. But I will tell you this: Afghanistan is only going to get worse, whether we are there or not. We stuck out hand in it and there no avoiding it now whether we leave it there or pull it out. Things are tough all over — but we definitely don’t need some hothead General and his staff running the mouths about it like gossiping teens. McChrystal was out of line and he was caught with his pants down. He should have remember who he was, where he was, and who we served. All those things were misrepresented by the actions recorded in that Rolling Stone piece. He was: unfit for command.