Foreign Policy Blogs

"Runaway General" Part Two

Here are a few observations from Michael Hasting’s Rolling Stone article

Obama-McChrystal seemed to be on same page in terms of actual Afghanistan war strategy/policy – This has been an underreported aspect of the whole incident. McChrystal and his aides were mainly critiquing (if ‘bite me’ is a critique) the political process and not the actual policy strategy. President Obama emphasized this nicely in his address yesterday. Now can Gen. Petraeus be successful with the same group of civilian politicans (Biden, Eikenberry, Holbrooke) in his Afghan camp?

President Obama took some serious hits – Also underemphasized was part of the article where one of McChrystal’s aides stated that the General was disappointed in his first one-on-one meeting with the President to discuss the Afghan strategy. The aid called the meeting a ’10 minute photo-op’ where the president appeared ‘unattentive’. This story does not make those of us who believe that President Obama has not spent enough time and political capital selling his strategy to the American public feel much better.

‘While McChrystal and his men are in indisputable command of all military aspects of the war, there is no equivalent position on the diplomatic or political side‘ – This key quote is connected to my first bullet. There does not seem to be a productive line of command between Obama, Biden, Holbrooke, Eikenberry, Clinton, Karzai, etc. A change of personnal or more clear authority lines could do some good here too.

McChrystal’s aids do most of the trash talk – For all the talk about McChrystal’s big mouth, it was his aides that did most of the blabbing in the article. This is no excuse, however, as McChrystal prided himself on being a man of discipline and authority and these afterall were ‘his’ aides.

Gen. McChrystal-Ambassador Eikenberry spat still vibrant – These two have been at loggerheads ever since Eikenberry’s leaked letter to the President arguing against McChrystal’s counterinsurgency surge plan and the article showed that this relationship was not improving. The leader of the US military and diplomacy in this country were not on the same page and this needs to change. Hopefully, Gen. Petraeus and Eikenberry (or his replacement) can have a more productive, cohesive relationship.

McChrystal has rather strong relations wth President Karzai, at least the best among the American officials – This was proved further true by Karzai’s very public (including a letter to President Obama) support for Gen. McChrystal to keep his job. This is one instance where Gen. Petraeus will have to work hard to keep up a fruitful relationship. Thankfully, Petraeus has the diplomatic and personal skills to do so.

McChrystal’s civilian protection policies are a tough swallow for troops in danger – This has been a growing story the last couple months and Hastings goes out of his way to show that American soldiers are very discouraged to be fighting with one hand (or several bombs, bullets) behind their back. Gen. McChrystal, and now Gen. Petraeus, had the challenging task of communicating to our soldiers on the ground that there are small and larger battles to be won in this fight. Once again, this is a developing story.

Lastly, Hastings is clearly against the current mission in Afghanistan and this impacts his story greatly – Hastings pessimesstic view of the American presence and current strategy in Afghanistan is plan to see from the get go. He calls the Marja offensive ‘doomed’ while not really showing any specific expertise or experience on the mission. His bias is shown clearly in this quote: ‘So far, counterinsurgency has succeeded only in creating a never-ending demand for the primary product supplied by the military: perpetual war. There is a reason that President Obama studiously avoids using the word “victory” when he talks about Afghanistan. Winning, it would seem, is not really possible.’ This is a pretty simplistic view of a complicated situation from a reporter with obvious preconceived views of the American military and the war in Afghanistan.