Foreign Policy Blogs

Good Signals for McChrystal's Counterinsurgency Strategy


In the past week or so there have been growing signs that the Obama administration is likely to choose an Afghan strategy closer to McChrystal’s counterinsurgency plan than VP Joe Biden’s counterterrorism stance.  However, most of these signs do not come directly from the administration as they have been rather tight-lipped and mainly just voiced a defense of their decision making process.

Many actors involved in partnership with the United States in Afghanistan, and even more importantly many high level Afghans themselves, have made several implicit and explicit moves to show that they support Gen. McChrystal’s recommendation for the increase of troops to implement an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign.  After a NATO summit last week in Slovakia, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated that their was “broad support from all ministers of this overall counterinsurgency approach.”  Gen. McChrystal himself later made it to the meeting and gave briefing of how his strategy would play out, and reports are that the audience was impressed and voiced their backing.  Of course, whether or not the many European states within NATO would put their money (and men) where their mouth is is another question.  US Defense Secretary Robert Gates did state: “There were a number of allies who indicated they were thinking about, or were moving toward, increasing either their military or their civilian contributions, or both.  And I found that very heartening.”  Nevertheless, pronouncements such as this take domestic political capital (think Germany, Britain, etc.) and should be seen as a positive sign if the Obama administration decides to take this route.

There have been other high level signals of support for the McChrystal plan that could provide cover and legitimacy to Obama if he makes this decision.  The British government has agreed to send 500 more troops into the fight and it would be hard to believe they wouldn’t have some American assurances that they will be joined by many more Americans.  UN representative to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, has put his approving position out in the public’s view as well, asserting “I do believe that additional international troops will be needed in the future.”  Lastly, Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s competitor in the early November runoff, told the American public in an interview with Fox News on Sunday, “The need for more troops is there in order to reverse the situation.”

So how do these just mostly ‘statements’ portend an Obama administration leaning toward giving McChrystal the troop numbers and strategy backing he’s asked for?  Well, for one thing, they give the US administration support from the allies that McChrystal and these new troops will be fighting with.  News reports of the Germans, Brits, Italians, etc. shouting ‘get us out’ make Obama and the US seem alone in the fight and this is disheartening to many American citizens who are already war weary.  Hearing that NATO allies, European powers, powerful Afghan and Pakistan leaders (President Zardari has spoken out about how dangerous it would be if the US did not commit itself to the fight), and UN officials state their approval provides more backbone to the administration’s final decision.  Obama clearly needs some domestic political cover from large swaths of his base that have shown to be anti-surge in various polls and the more international backing the better.

The decision has yet to be made, (it after all may still be weeks away), and their are definitive signs that the administration could go either way, but I’m starting to think the McChrystal is going to get something close to the 40,000 troop surge he asked for.  These troops will likely not all come at once, the numbers may end up looking a little fudgy to look smaller, and the results and aftereffects of the runoff election will definitely play a part, as the administration will be weary of an ineffective and illegitimate partner in Kabul, but I think McChrystal will get his chance.