Sect. of Defense Gates released a statement:
“I read with concern the profile piece on Gen. Stanley McChrystal in the upcoming edition of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine. I believe that Gen. McChrystal made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment in this case. We are fighting a war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies, who directly threaten the United States, Afghanistan, and our friends and allies around the world. Going forward, we must pursue this mission with a unity of purpose. Our troops and coalition partners are making extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of our security, and our singular focus must be on supporting them and succeeding in Afghanistan without such distractions. Gen. McChrystal has apologized to me and is similarly reaching out to others named in this article to apologize to them as well. I have recalled Gen. McChrystal to Washington to discuss this in person.”
Reading Pentagon tea leaves is rarely edifying, but this seems to telegraph that Gen. McChrystal may actually withstand his insubordination.
If this is the case, Pres. Obama and SecDef Gates have set a stunning new precedent that minimizes the presidency and the critical importance of civilian authority over U.S. military.
Looking deeper into the Rolling Stone article, several things jump out, but one that is particularly important.
But on June 10th, acknowledging that the military still needs to lay more groundwork, the general announced that he is postponing the offensive until the fall. Rather than one big battle, like Fallujah or Ramadi, U.S. troops will implement what McChrystal calls a “rising tide of security.” The Afghan police and army will enter Kandahar to attempt to seize control of neighborhoods, while the U.S. pours $90 million of aid into the city to win over the civilian population.
Even proponents of counterinsurgency are hard-pressed to explain the new plan. “This isn’t a classic operation,” says a U.S. military official. “It’s not going to be Black Hawk Down. There aren’t going to be doors kicked in.” Other U.S. officials insist that doors are going to be kicked in, but that it’s going to be a kinder, gentler offensive than the disaster in Marja. “The Taliban have a jackboot on the city,” says a military official. “We have to remove them, but we have to do it in a way that doesn’t alienate the population.” When Vice President Biden was briefed on the new plan in the Oval Office, insiders say he was shocked to see how much it mirrored the more gradual plan of counterterrorism that he advocated last fall. “This looks like CT-plus!” he said, according to U.S. officials familiar with the meeting.
Beyond McChrystal’s gross insubordination, V.P. Joe Biden’s theory on Afghanistan is the story, because there are signs that’s where we’re now headed, which will intensify McChrystal’s antipathy for his civilian bosses.
As far as I’m concerned, COIN has failed abysmally in Afghanistan. Not only does it hamstring our soldiers from what they do best, but it actually could be the reason our casualty rates are climbing, because regardless of McChrystal’s fierce loyalty to soldiers and their fealty to him, his policy requires U.S. military put civilian casualties before their own defense. You can’t half fight a war through nation building in a country with terrain more treacherously challenging than Vietnam.
What I’ve said even amidst my support for Obama’s continued Afghanistan push, is that regardless of what we do the Taliban will outlast us, so some meeting of the minds has to occur at some point. That it’s not happening is obvious, but that it’s also now unmasked the chaos of command and control on Afghanistan policy is horrendous for U.S. foreign policy in other regions, specifically in the Middle East, where you can bet our allies and adversaries are taking note.
If Gen. McChrystal stays in place, whatever we hoped to accomplish in Afghanistan is over, and Pres. Obama’s foreign policy authority will be reduced to nil.