Tuesday, July 6, 2010

General David Petraeus took command of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan on Sunday.

Many are considering this change of command to be little more than a change in nameplates, as President Obama has made it clear that US and NATO policy in Afghanistan will not change with the removal of General McChrystal. As we at Demagogues and Dictators seek to provide multi-faceted analysis of issues, I thought the below image provided an excellent graphical evaluation of the situation (courtesy of Doctrine Man)


On a serious note, I do think that the transfer of command is significant, even with all parties involved professing fealty to the current strategy.

Why? Because personalities matter, even in war.

Anyone who has ever spent time in any office (or pretty much anywhere, for that matter) can tell you that individuals who don't get along find it difficult to work together. Even if the dysfunctional triangle of General McChrystal, Ambassador to Afghanistan Eikenberry, and AfPak Envoy Richard Holbrooke never led to any purposeful undermining, poor (or very bad) communication is disruptive on many levels. First, and foremost, it causes a breakdown in staff communication farther down the chain. Second, it makes it that much more difficult for the US military and the US civilian agencies to understand what the other requires, something that is already difficult in the most hospitable of conditions. Third, it forces the United States to show a divided front in Afghanistan, and to all of the myriad actors important in the conflict (Pakistan, India, Russia, NATO, etc.).

Effective communication won't fix anything overnight, but they do improve ISAF's chances. In the jargon of the social sciences (I know, I can't resist), effective communication between civilian and military actors doesn't provide the permissive conditions for a successful counterinsurgency campaign, but they almost certainly are a necessary condition.

I don't know if General Petraeus will be able to work effectively with Ambassadors Eikenberry and Holbrooke, but I know that General McChrystal couldn't. That alone is reason for some hope.

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