Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Here in Afghanistan the talk in the hallways and cafeterias has been dominated by discussions of what will happen when "the boss" meets with President Obama tomorrow at the White House. There is no question that General McChrystal will offer to resign as a result of comments made by him and his aides to free lance journalist Michael Hastings author of the controversial Runaway General article in Rolling stone. When I initially heard murmuring about this article two days ago I assumed that the comments contained within were a strategic move on the part of General McCrystal and his staff to have their voices heard in order to pressure Congress and the Obama administration to stop playing politics with his war. After conducting more than 50 interviews with experienced military professionals here in Afghanistan, I can tell you first hand that many commanders here echo McCyrstal's point that they are being asked to sell an unwinable position. Setting a deadline of July 2011 for the start of a withdrawal essentially cuts counterinsurgency strategy off at the knees. However, now having read the Rolling Stone article, it is clear that General McChrystal and his staff went native with this reporter, letting their guard down too much to someone who was not to be trusted.

General McChrystal is obviously not the superman that the media had made him out to be. He is a man who has often blundered when it comes to off the cuff remarks to the media. He is however the exact person that America needs running the war in Afghanistan. Counterinsurgency doctrine is a relatively new introduction to Afghanistan and there are still many commanders who who do not buy into it. It will take a known warrior like McChrystal, who has more than his fair share of blood on his hands from his days running the Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq, to convince the most stubborn hold out here that we cannot kill our way out of Afghanistan. Besides his credibility amongst the majority of the troops here in Afghanistan, McChrystal is the only American that President Karzai is known to actually like in the whole country. The Rolling Stone article wrongly depicts General McChrystal as having stolen the diplomatic playbook for Afghanistan away from Ambassadors Eikenberry and Holbrooke. However, the plain fact of the matter is that both those men have publicly questioned Karzai's ability to lead and as a result he does not want to work with them.

The Western media has apparently flipped the switch on its collective brain and has begun incorrectly comparing General McCrystal to General MacArther, the commander of U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula in 1951 who was subsequently fired by General Truman for insubordination. General McCystal is guilty of poor judgment obviously but has come no where close to committing insubordination. General MacArthur on the other hand flat out refused to follow several of President Truman's direct orders and was in fact secretly negotiating with influential congressman behind the Presidents back in order to gain approval for the escalation of the Korean War. Had MacArthur not been removed from his command the Korean War may very likely have gone nuclear. General McCrystal has disobeyed no direct orders nor has he sought to subvert President Obama's influence and thus has not committed insubordination.

If I was a betting man, I would bet conservatively on General McChrystal retaining his position as commander of ISAF, however, he is likely to be stripped of the majority of this diplomatic portfolio which will surely be given to Ambassador Eikenberry who will likely become the public face of the war as General McChrystal is ordered to retreat to the background.

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