Security Needs Focus After Trash-Talking General Goes
ERNEST COREA (IDN)
Stanley McChrystal's removal from his position of pre-eminent military
leadership in Afghanistan has deflected attention from the continuing
need for a sober, non-rancorous national debate on the war in
That, too, will come, however, for who can forget that McChrystal's fall
from grace took place in June, the same month in which his strategy
appeared to be running out of gas.
According to current reports, 100 foreign troops died in Afghanistan in
June, "bringing 2010's total to 319, compared with 521 in
2009." The previous "worst month" for the anti-Taliban
international coalition was August 2009, when 77 troops were killed.
The resurgence of military activity directed at ISAF (International
Security Assistance Force) troops surely suggests that another
reappraisal of the war'ss realities would, at the very least, be
helpful. But first, the McChrystal calamity.
Twenty minutes in the Oval Office of the White House was all it took to
eject "Stan's-the-Man" from his role of supreme military
leadership in Afghanistan. He was said to have offered President Barack
Obama his resignation and the president accepted -- swiftly, no doubt,
lest the general have second thoughts.
McChrystal's abrupt and ignominious departure from his powerful post,
caused by what seemed to be a surge of childish irresponsibility by the
general and his closest aides, brings into question the assessments and
advice that influenced Obama's decision to elevate him to supreme
He was highly recommended by the Pentagon's top brass as both a
strategic thinker and a man of action; personally endowed with the
virtue of self-discipline. Great expectations were therefore raised when
Obama nominated him to take on the responsibility of the "forgotten
war" in Afghanistan.
Were those assessments justified or were they based primarily on the
good vibes that the general gave out in his relationship with his
military bosses? Obama was undoubtedly impressed by his credentials, and
his nomination of McChrystal was generally well received. History will
decide whether the "feel good" reception was justified.
Obama graciously acknowledged McChrystal's years of service, and his
positive qualities, in a brief explanatory address to the nation. The
president reminded his audience that "all Americans should be
grateful for General McChrystal's remarkable career in uniform."
Neverthesless, the expectations raised by McChrystal's appointment have
now joined others in "the graveyard of empires."
Men and women in uniform face death on behalf of their comrades and
their fellow-citizens. Perhaps it is that knowledge which endows
"military culture" with swagger, a "can do" approach
to most matters, a sense of ribaldry, and sometimes rowdiness.
All this is considered "normal" among men and women in uniform
when they are in their own company. As members of the armed services,
however, they are expected to keep their lips tightly closed in the
presence of outsiders, especially outsiders from the fourth estate.
"Careless talk costs lives" was a World War 2 slogan. Today,
it can also cost jobs.
Men and women in uniform are also expected to remember and live by the
principle that in a democracy the military functions under civilian
Of course, they are quite free to engage in politics, and advocate a
change of policies under which they functioned, but only when they have
ended their military careers.
McChrystal and his 'Team America' crashed through the well-established
boundaries. They blabbed to a reporter from the magazine Rolling Stone,
mouthing criticisms and insults directed primarily at their civilian
Many of these indiscreet comments found their way into the reporter's
article published in Rolling Stone under the heading "Runaway
The conduct of McChrystal and his Team America "represented in the
recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set
by a commanding general," Obama pointed out. "It undermines
the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our
democratic system. And it erodes the trust that's necessary for our team
to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan." And so
it was "curtains" for Stanís-the-Man.
Since then, some news outlets have reported that McChrystal plans to
retire from military service altogether. The retirement process is
expected to take several months.
Obama has nominated another highly reputed general, David Petraeus to
succeed McChrystal, and the nominee's confirmation hearings are imminent
at the time of writing. Petraeus is highly regarded in the legislature
and most expectations are that the hearings will be something of a
"love fest," with his confirmation a certainty.
However, Petraeus will take up his duties in the shadow of doubts cast
on the course of the war in Afghanistan by none other than McChrystal
London's The Independent newspaper reported on June 27, 2010 that some
days before his removal from office, McChrystal issued a
"devastatingly critical assessment of the war" against a
"resilient and growing insurgency."
He is said to have cautioned NATO's Defence Ministers not to expect any
progress in the next six months. Such a negative assessment by the
general who was until recently managing the war against the Al Qaeda and
Taliban in Afghanistan surely raises serious questions about its future
McChrystal's reported sense of caution -- some would no doubt call it
downright pessimism -- is reflected, as well, in the current quarterly
UN report to the UN Security Council which flatly said that the overall
security situation had not improved since the previous report three
The war was launched in retaliation for the massacre of September 11,
2001. When Osama bin Laden, leader of Al Qaeda, triumphantly took credit
for that attack, the U.S. Senate authorized military action against Al
Qaeda by a vote of 98 to zero. In the House of Representatives the vote
was 420 to 1. That authorization remains unchanged.
Also in force is NATO's invocation of Article 5 of its charter which
holds that an attack on one member nation is an attack on all.
Similarly, the UN Security Council has endorsed the use of all necessary
steps to respond to the 9/11 attacks.
The war was commended when it was launched, as a "war of
necessity." With the war still far from conclusion, its founding
fathers of the Bush Administration changed course, diverting resources
into action in Iraq where thousands had to "die for a lie."
Drained of resources, ISAF troops in Afghanistan remained under
continuing pressure, and faced setbacks.
Obama, in campaign mode at the time, and accused by his opponents of
both the Republican and Democratic parties of being "soft" on
national security issues, decided to show his "toughness" by
espousing a greater war effort.
He announced (on August 1, 2007) that as president he would "deploy
at least two additional brigades to Afghanistan to re-enforce our
counter-terrorism operations and support NATO's efforts against the
Two years later, on Aug. 30, 2009, faced with continuing military
setbacks, and realizing that Afghanistan was engulfed in political,
social, and economic deterioration, McChrystal, by then the commander of
NATO and U.S. forces, pressed the case for a new strategy and additional
He cautioned that "failure to provide adequate resources also risks
a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and
ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in
turn, are likely to result in mission failure."
Setbacks continue and, apparently so does pessimism despite the fact
that McChrystal's strategy of counter-insurgency is in place and
additional troops have been deployed in Afghanistan.
Petraeus and the Obama Administration's national security team appear to
face formidable challenges -- yet again -- as they look to the future. A
perception of disunity within that team is just one of them, and perhaps
easiest to fix.
Much more difficult is the assessment by experts with substantial
experience in Afghanistan who argue that the greatest problem afflicting
the U.S.-led coalition is its lack of a credible civilian ally, a vital
need in a strategy based on counterinsurgency.
A corollary of this view is that ISAF lacks civilian support on the
ground because it is considered an "occupying force."
Some of these experts believe that "the war in Afghanistan cannot
be won, cannot be lost."
Working his way through this minefield of ideas and ground realities is
the test that awaits Petraeus when his anticipated love-fest with
legislators is done.
| Analysis That Matters]
served as Sri Lanka's ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA.
He was Chairman of the Commonwealth's Select Committee on the media and
development. Editor of the Ceylon 'Daily News' and the Ceylon
'Observer', and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs
columnist of the Singapore 'Straits Times'. He is on the IDN editorial