Stanley McChrystal, in my estimate, is not a political general, as Petraeus undoubtedly is. He appears to be a fine soldier, a great fighting man, but not overly intelligent. It was a mistake to appoint him to a position where he had a role in making policy instead of just implementing it.
It would not surprise me if this was a clever maneouvre by Gen Petraeus: getting McChrystal put in the Afghanistan command, with his first task to recommend the policy for that war, and suitable advisers made available to him to draft that policy.
Somewhere down the line McChrystal was sold on COIN (probably as the recipe that turned the Iraq war around, even though it did nothing of the sort); he is that intense type who commit themselves totally to things once they are convinced. Thus, Petraeus's preferred policy is put forward by McChrystal, a general who would probably quit if it wasn't adopted, while the former sits back and waits to see which would be the best way to jump at the right moment.
I have read the Commander's Summary of McChrystal's 30 August report. The apt term to describe it is: Bullshit! It is obvious that some clever people have sold good soldier Stanley a bill of goods. There is so much nonsense in it that it is difficult to decide what to point out.
A few examples will suffice. The aim given by Obama to Petraeus and McChrystal is to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda (AQ). But AQ is in Pakistan, not Afghanistan. So, what is the US doing fighting a war in Afghanistan against the Taliban? The answer given is: if the Afghan government falls to the Taliban, Afghanistan COULD again become a base for AQ. Sez who? Why? What basis is there for this critical justification of the war in Afghanistan? None is given (because the clever people spinning this web know that if they tried to suggest any, they'd be shot to pieces; far better to slip this through as a flat statement). COIN is going to be implemented by the US/NATO troops along with increasing numbers of Afghan soldiers and police. But the aim of COIN is going to be to protect the people from both attacks by the Taliban and oppression by government forces! Who's doing the oppressing and who is doing the protecting? Are the Afghan forces going to be part of the problem or part of the solution?
The supportive views of the Afghan people are represented in the report by a quote from Gen Wardak, the Afghan Defence Minister! The billions of dollars that the report wants poured into the Afghan army are going to be funnelled through this gentleman's ministry; it does not seem to have struck straight-shooter Stanley that there may be some cause for bias there. The success of the COIN strategy being proposed will ultimately depend on handing over the secured areas to the Afghan army and police. The critical issue of whether they could measure up to this task, and when, or at all, are left untouched. To get a good look at these forces and their prospects, see:
This is a con on Obama and McChrystal by all those who want the war to go on and on, and the billions and billions of dollars to keep flowing. Good soldier McChrystal has fallen for it. Will Obama?
ya their is no doubt he appears to be a fine soldiers.. but about war i don’t think so..
Once again the US outsmarted by a protected geographic enclave utilized by a highly competent foe. Too bad that the ability of the US to develop, adopt, and implement strategy has so far declined in the modern era. Hey, enemies of the US! How many Saddam Hussein’s will sit still for the US to build up slowly very slowly efforts to depose them? Not many in my judgement! Clearly the Army leadership is NOT up to the job assigned but definitely all interested in making rank and getting tickets punched to enhance careers.
I tracked back this article to OP-FOR.com.
Rory Stewart had an apt explanation for the way advice “outcomes” are being engineered in afghanistan the other day.
“They come to me for advice and say, ‘we’ve decided to drive our car off a cliff. That’s settled. What we want to know is, should we wear a seat belt?”
Rory: “You probably shouldn’t drive off the cliff.”
Them: “No, you’re not listening. That’s not negotiable. What about the seatbelts?”
Rory: “Well, I suppose if you’re driving off the cliff no matter what, you should wear a seatbelt.”
And then of course the report gets written: “We’ve been advised to wear seatbelts as the best way to win the war.”
Not sure what you are referring to. pl
I see now and have restored the paragraphing. The article was on SST first. pl
Looks like the President would be well served firing both Petraeus and McChrystal.
Especially when one factors in the latest:
McChrystal to resign if not given resources for Afghanistan – Threat Matrix – by The Long War Journal
McChrystal is portraying himself to be a pouting child who’ll puff up his cheeks and turn blue, if he doesn’t get the cookies he wants.
“Will Obama?” I frankly don’t see how he can. The Dems are terrified by visions of Mullah Omar making a triumphal return to Af. Even if only to Kandahar. And that return being portrayed in a political ad here in the States. Of course the irony is the moment Omar would do such a thing he makes himself vulnerable to the things the US military does well. But that won’t matter. We’ve given the insurgency a blank check book and Obama and the Dems think we have to keep cashing the checks. I don’t see him, or Hillary, or anyone else standing up to that fear of ‘losing Afghanistan’. And having the generals saying ‘I told you so’. I think it is a sorry situation but I think it is the one we are in.
Re: McChrystal has fallen for it.
Jon Krakaur on C-SPAN’s Q&A on Sunday did not have nice things to say about McChrystal with respect to his behavior in the Tillman affair. McChrystal didn’t sound like the type of guy who “falls for it”.
If his 30 August report IS BS, maybe Obama and Gates will detect this and call him on it. But those 43 (?) benchmarks for success have a certain whiff of the barny as well.
So is Petraeus the main cheerleader for the war? Mullen seems supportive. What does Gates think of Petraeus (or Mullen)?
Some (most) of these fellows can be easily “converted.” Their egos make it a simple process if you have a strong enough stomach. pl
Brig. Ali your skepticism is certainly shared by the military professionals I met in India and I would think many in Russia, China, and across the globe.
It would be interesting to know of the briefings being given this week to statesmen around the world by their military and intelligence services anent US plans and policy for Afghanistan. “Here go the American cowboys again…” etc.
Focus needs to be maintained on precisely who is advising McCh. and where COINism is coming from. Inside the Beltway, people ARE policy and thus we need to identify and track the players as we analyze the policy.
So, from a July 2009 piece in Foreign Policy:
“… General McChrystal are Sarah Chayes, the NPR reporter turned Kandahar-based humanitarian. Chayes had been due to appear at a Center for American Progress event this week that was later cancelled.
The American Enterprise Institute’s Fred Kagan and his wife Kimberly Kagan, president of the Institute for the Study of War, are also part of a team of influential (and notably bipartisan) think-tank hands serving as members of a “strategic assessment group” to McChrystal. Fred Kagan, a former military historian at West Point, is credited with helping formulate the “surge” strategy in Iraq that was led by General Petraeus and current Iraq commander Gen. Ray Odierno on the ground and chosen by then President George W. Bush.
This week, two other senior defense analysts and members of Gen. McChrystal’s “strategic assessment group” who recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations, reported to foreign-policy audiences and journalists from their home institutions. While their respective messages were not optimistic, it’s conceivable they might be part of an effort that ultimately helps McChrystal make the case to a skeptical and quagmire-averse Washington of the need for providing more troops, civilian personnel and resources to Afghanistan.
Cordesman, who stressed in his typically blunt Wednesday briefing (pdf) that he was only speaking for himself and not for General McChrystal, said that Afghanistan was “a war shaped not by strategy but by years of neglect and systematic under-resourcing.”
“I am less optimistic than I was before the trip,” Biddle said on a Council on Foreign Relations press call Thursday. “And one thing that did change is, I’m less optimistic that the margin of the north and the west are perpetually stable, than I was before going there.”
Other members of the McChrystal assessment team, in addition to the two Kagans, Cordesman, and Biddle, include:
Andrew Exum, a former Army Ranger, counterinsurgency expert, and blogger at the Center for a New American Security
Jeremy Shapiro, a civil-military relations analyst at the Brookings Institution
Terry Kelly, a senior researcher at the Rand Corporation
Catherine Dale of the Congressional Research Service
Etienne de Durand of the Institut Français des Relations Internationales in Paris
Luis Peral of the European Union’s Institute for Strategic Studies
Whitney Kassel of the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense
Lt. Col. Aaron Prupas, a U.S. Air Force officer at Centcom
The director/coordinator of the team was Col. Chris Kolenda. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius has described Kolenda as “something of an amateur ethnologist” and a “key” Pentagon strategist for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ignatius says the young lieutenant colonel gave an “unforgettable briefing” on the local tribes in his corner of northeastern Afghanistan back in 2008. Kolenda was assisted by U.S. Army Col. Danial Pick.
In the aftermath of the controversial decision to “surge” troops to Iraq in late 2006, General Petraeus was both strategic and calculating in encouraging his top military advisors to make the case for the surge to the press, in setting up regular conference calls with Washington’s think tank class and op-ed writers, and inviting such influence makers on Pentagon-chaperoned (and sometimes Pentagon-funded) missions to study gains coalition forces were achieving in Iraq from the command’s perspective.
As Petraeus described his thinking at the time, his aim was to add time to the “Washington clock” and make his mission less vulnerable to political hand-wringing back home until the security situation was stabilized. Although the president who authorized Petraeus’ surge left office with the Iraq war his chief and still controversial legacy, Petraeus was able to smoothly transition to become one of the Obama administration’s chief national security figures.
It’s a lesson perhaps from the Petraeus team’s famous counterinsurgency doctrine: In the campaign to win hearts and minds, don’t forget the home front.”
General Dave’s silence is most obvious, and by its absence, most instructive.
Simply put, by saying nothing, he wins and wins big. General Stanley is set up as the tethered goat to take the (inane) lashing of the left and possibly the Congress and President, while General Dave remains “above it all” on his own personal Olympus. And when General Stanley fails, with our without his extra troops, General Dave simply exhorts his acolytes, “if only…”
Such arrangements also well-suit Admiral Mike, who, unlike the obtuse Myers before him, seems somewhat more astute to the trails and sufferings of the ordinary troops (and their families). But, Admiral Mike is as flawed by his careerist rise as was Myers, and he leaves unsaid what needs to be said about the mission, the strategy, and the national interest when such intestinal fortitude and plain talking is so desperately needed.
As for Gates, he knows his exit time fast approaches. He has well positioned himself to bend with any wind, but above all, to not upset the applecart (and risk exclusion from the club of high national security professionals).
I again ask, what is the end point? the objective? the thoughtful balance of ways, means and ends? You won’t find it in the current discussion among the glitterati, the empty headed pundits and paid media shills, and most definitely among the elected leaders and their appointed officials.
No. The waste will continue so long as the creditors extend the treasure to waste. And, why would China want to stop the bleeding before the USA is prostrate? Did we extend the USSR the same courtesy?
Col. Lang, Mr Stress of Cleveland asks if the photo accompanying this post is the Civil War Confederate Officers POW camp and cemetary on Johnson’s Island in Sandusky Bay? Thank you
It is the Moses Ezekiel statue there. Pl
Define, if you would, “inane”?
Serving Patriots comment reflects the true nature of “Real PolitiK”!
Our (US) missteps are actually benefiting our long term (and maybe even short term) economic/military/political competitors perhaps even those that worship ISLAM! The US strategic vision that resulted in a Germany first policy in WWII is long gone. As stated by the Admiral in the “Bridges of Toko Ri” with Bill Holden as lost Navy Pilo–where do we get such men? But now not even a carrier captain as in the movie likely to ask such a basic and resonating question? I would now paraphrase it with respect to the flag ranks–where do we get such fools? Perhaps as we close in on restoration of “monarchy” in the US people will begin to sense that defense of the “Realm” is all about the 2nd term. A true Patriot would have sacrificed that notion to the country’s best interests in both long and short term. NO EVIDENCE OF ANY LONG TERM THINKING in last 4 Administrations. They just did not “GET IT!”
Thank you for the useful information you give about the people who help to make these policies.
Your reference to Cordesman reminded me of an email from a friend who attended a recent panel discussion at the Brookings Institute held after the Afghan election to assess future prospects there. This is what he wrote about Cordesman’s presentation:
“The fourth panelist was the most impressive, Anthony Cordesman, a grizzled, square-jawed customer who is widely respected for his military and national security expertise. He was pretty much the panel’s voice of doom, noting the US embassy in Kabul was running around without a plan, the Taliban held at least 40 percent of the country, and matters were growing worse. When he finished speaking, the capacity crowd in the hall was so stunned by his pessimistic outlook there was dead silence. For a moment I thought everybody was going to get up and walk out on the assumption that the war in Afghanistan was lost and there was noting else to say”.
Thanks for your comment. It is quite essential for those following this to focus on the players. DC inside the Beltway is rather like Hollywood with respect to personalities. People are “in” and they are “out”; they are “up” and they are “down.” The media puffs up its darlings and trims down those on their black list.
Cordesman is savvy, technical, and blunt … and a well-connected slick inside the Beltway type. He is in the COIN ultras camp. As I recall he was a McCain adviser at one time.
He does the gravitas thing very well and given his verbal facility with highly technical language can seem persuasive in discussion in conference settings and in the media.
For his product see various at his CSIS website:
Those interested in technical military matters can review his extensive remarks per “Shape-Clear-Hold”:
For all his fireworks, I cannot find where he has clearly laid out the strategic context and what precise vital national interests are at stake in Afghanistan. McCh. most certainly did not in his 66 page paper.
Are we “saving” Afghanistan so as to position ourselves with respect to a rerun of the Great Game versus the Russians in Central Asia?
Just what ARE US vital national interests in Central Asia? Hydrocarbons, just what?
Are we going to “save” Afghanistan because this will save NATO? One should consider that NATO got itself into this mess with the unnecessary eastward expansion and the “out of area” operations thing against many warnings from the likes of Amb. George Kennan and others over a decade ago.
I hope to be in Beijing before Christmas and, if so, look forward to a friendly exchange of views with academic colleagues and military on various issues to include “Af-Pak.”
Writing a posting on the same general subject and, in particular, the question of our strategic purpose a month or so ago; I mentioned Halford Mackinder and his heartland theory. I didn’t get a response from anyone then, but thought I’d bring his theory up again and ask if you think it could be the theoretical underpinning of the reasons for our moves in Central Asia, the Caucasus and Eastern Europe?
Yes, it is what I call Neo-Mackinderism. I have mentioned this in passing from time to time over several years on this blog as well as in lectures in the US and abroad. The US is in effect using the 19th century geopolitics of the British Empire. Thus we are in a new “Great Game” in Central Asia/South Asia.
You would also factor into the mix the geopolitical fantasies of Thomas Barnett with his “center-periphery” stuff which is lifted (and then perversely twisted in a reductionist manner) from the pioneering work of Professor I. Wallerstein at Yale.
I lectured on this very topic in India in December at the University of Punjab where they have an excellent center for the study of geopolitics. One very able graduate student is working precisely on this topic for his Ph.D. dissertation: the construction of US geopolitical perspectives and present US foreign policy.
My view regarding Neo-Mackinderism is based on my own past federal government experience and also a reading of official Bush era National Strategy statements as well as the extremely influential book by Brzezinski entitled “The Grand Chessboard” (New York: Basic Books, 1997).
I do not see yet that the Obama Administration has made any essential “change” or shift. So far, it appears to me to be the same old-same old with an attempt at new packaging. This can change but we will have to await developments. As far as I know, the Obama Administration has not yet released its official National Strategy statement which is required by Congress. But one can check Bush Administration ones.
For some reason, there are not a few American strategy types inside the Beltway and elsewhere who think they know something about Geopolitics and play at it. But Geopolitik is a deep well and one would have to consider Ratzel, Kjellen, and Haushofer and others. Of course, one has to consider Spykman as well.
In the 1960s, when I was at the University of Virginia, I took courses on political and economic geography and thus had some basic exposure to the general field. There are several professional academic journals in the field of geopolitics which reflect contemporary research and perspectives.
It is fascinating to see how Wall Street bankers like Strauss-Hupe and Paul Nitze in the past undergo some immaculate conception and emerge as influential “strategists”. And then there are the proteges of Harvard’s rather odd (and Mackinderish) William Yandell Elliot: Kissinger and Brzezinski. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Yandell_Elliott
(Of the old Harvard types, Prof. William Langer was the really notable and serious one and worth reading. Sherman Kent at Yale would be a counterpart of that generation of AMERICAN — repeat for good measure AMERICAN — scholars.)
Some data with bibliography on another McCh. advisor, Luis Peral:
“Spanish. Doctorate in Law and MA in European Union law from the University Carlos III of Madrid, where he was also lecturer in International Law from 1992 to 2004. Former Ramon y Cajal researcher at the Ministry of the Presidency of the Spanish Government from 2004 to 2008, Senior Fellow at FRIDE (2004-2006) and Director of the Conflict Prevention and Resolution Programme at the Toledo International Centre for Peace, CITpax (2006-2008).
At the Institute, Luis Peral deals with the EU contribution to multilateralism and in particular to the international security system, EU-Asia relations with a focus on India, and international responses to conflict situations such as that of Afghanistan.”
By “innane,” I did not mean to slur, but merely illustrate that no matter the beating of chests by those in the anti-war left of center, their political impact will be negligible.
One would have thought that flush with electoral victory in 2006, the war opposition in the legislature would be able to force the Executive to unwind their positions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, W doubled down on Iraq and gave them the giant “F U.” Similarly, in early 2009, with an even stronger mandate to end the war, the new Executive added troops to Afghanistan. All those new voters, switched voters and congressional seats made not a lick of difference.
Will this cycle end any differently? Time will tell, but I remain quite pessimistic. I will offer that the new Executive is far, far more reasonable than the last. But, his attentiveness to the actual Citizens desire remains to be seen.
You think about war also, because you are thinking about a fine solider, so you have too.