I cross-posted this item on the Register's Orange Punch blog, and thought it might be of interest here as well:
When I first heard of the administration’s plans to replace Gen. David McKiernan in Afghanistan with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, my immediate reaction was that this was a similar situation to that of Gen. Eric Shinseki at the beginning of the Iraq invasion. Shinseki had said publicly that more U.S. troops would be needed than were in the plans (contrary to Rumsfeld’s desire for a leaner force) and Mc Kiernan has said publicly that more troops are going to be needed in Afghanistan than the Obama administration is inclined to make available. So McKiernan was fired for stating what might be obvious to some in the military and displeasing his civilian superiors? And like Shinseki he stands to be proven right?
I’m still not sure this is an incorrect assumption, but it may be more complicated than that.
It may seem strange, given that I have argued that the U.S. should pull all military forces out of Afghanistan unless there is evidence of al-Qaida establishing bases there, which at this point there isn’t, that I might sympathize with McKiernan. But given standard counter-insurgency doctrine, if there is to be a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan (which seems likely), it seems likely that more troops than are presently committed will be needed to have a prayer of success.
It’s complicated, however. Some have argued that McKiernan, though a competent soldier, thinks too conventionally to devise strategies to succeed in Afghanistan. Here is George Packer’s initial take at the New Yorker. Michael Yon, who has been on-scene in a number of conflicts, seems conflicted. Fred Kaplan at Slate says this move makes Afghanistan unqualifiedly Obama’s war. Here is Judah Grunstein’s take at World Politics Review (h/t Andrew). Michael Cohen questions the standard interpretation of the “surge” in Iraq, as I have.
McChrystal, with a background in special forces, is said to be more imaginative and daring than McKiernan, though being more daring could lead to more civilian casualties. In addition, McChrystal was in charge of Task Force 6-26 in Iraq, where people at Camp Nama were tortured. His role in the initial coverup of Pat Tillman’s death in Afghanistan is unclear. He is said to have sent a memo to Rumsfeld warning him that it might have been “friendly fire” but Rumsfeld denied having seen it.
There’s much more to learn, and of course we’ll know more in the aftermath of McChrystal’s appointment than we know now. But it does seem clear that this move makes it Obama’s war, for better or worse.