The big story yesterday was the release of a Rolling Stone article in which General Stanley McChrystal, Obama’s head general in Afghanistan, made several disparaging comments about the White House’s handling of the war. Names and several f-bombs were dropped.
Now, the main question is whether Obama has the grounds to fire McChrystal. Already, there have been several comparisons to when President Truman fired General MacArthur during the Korean War. But, given McChrystal’s work in Afghanistan and his carefully cultivated relationship with Afghan President Harmid Karzai, his removal could cause more harm than good.
McChrystal has been working on a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan, which describes the opposition of insurgency forces by a country’s government and outside forces allied with that government.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend a lunch with counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen at the McClatchy news bureau in Washington, DC. Kilcullen explained that counterinsurgency involves the application of social science to counter rebellion, namely the creation of a predictable system of rules that allows the public to be safe. It is an academic discipline and an intellectual fad, but a fad that draws on only a few examples from a pool of hundreds.
According to Kilcullen, a government has about an 80% chance of succeeding in counterinsurgency efforts if it has the home turf advantage and is willing to negotiate with the insurgent forces. The problem with counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, however, stems from Obama’s assertion of a military drawback in July 2011. Historically, setting a deadline in a counterinsurgency effort has never worked. And with McChrystal’s comments causing disturbance within the military, it seems such action will be even more complicated than originally thought.
According to the Washington Post, Obama and Vice Pres. Biden were warned about the article before it hit newsstands when McChrystal called Biden to apologize for what the article might say. However, it seems that the apology fell flat in face of McChrystal’s comments and the rift within the military chain of command the comments refer to. McChrystal has been called to the White House, and Obama has distributed copies of the Rolling Stone piece to members of his staff in order to gauge their opinions on the matter. Now we just have to wait on tenterhooks. I can only imagine what McChrystal is thinking.
UPDATE: McChrystal is ousted, and General Petraeus is in. This is the second time Obama has replaced the command in Afghanistan – let’s wait and see how this pans out.