This Rolling Stone article on Stanley McChrystal is causing a stir. An aide has already been fired and some are speculating McChrystal himself might be next on the chopping block.
Like Spencer Ackerman I think it’s a lot of sizzle not much beef. Gen. McC. and his aides like to make fun of Karl Eikenberry, Joe Biden, and Richard Holbrooke. It’s beyond stupid of them to let all this be aired in Rolling Stone and they have no one to blame but themselves, but I’m not really sure this is a fireable offense. It’s a perfect pretense to fire him if Obama is still pissed about McChyrstal’s leaked memo saying without 40,000 troops Afghanistan would be completely lost.
But basically McChrystal’s gotten everything he’s wanted so far. He’s gotten all that he could reasonably ask for given the political climate and the length of the Afghanistan War.
It strikes me that the problem here is not the not particularly funny (at least on second telling and in print) frat boy humor amongst the general and his staff but the entire COIN strategy in Afghanistan. I think firing McChyrstal at this point only leaves open the “We Would Have Won Afghanistan If Obama Hadn’t Fired McChyrstal” from the neocon hawks. Though I suppose they are going to claim Obama and The Democrats betrayed their true cause and lost the war regardless so perhaps this doesn’t matter very much.
Here instead of this real crux of the issue, from the article:
Part of the problem is structural: The Defense Department budget exceeds $600 billion a year, while the State Department receives only $50 billion. But part of the problem is personal: In private, Team McChrystal likes to talk shit about many of Obama’s top people on the diplomatic side. One aide calls Jim Jones, a retired four-star general and veteran of the Cold War, a “clown” who remains “stuck in 1985.” Politicians like McCain and Kerry, says another aide, “turn up, have a meeting with Karzai, criticize him at the airport press conference, then get back for the Sunday talk shows. Frankly, it’s not very helpful.” Only Hillary Clinton receives good reviews from McChrystal’s inner circle. “Hillary had Stan’s back during the strategic review,” says an adviser. “She said, ‘If Stan wants it, give him what he needs.’?”
The structural problem goes much deeper than the Defense/State divide. The State Department is built for nation-state to nation-state diplomacy. It has shown repeatedly I think that it can’t handle post-initial conflict stabilization, reconstruction, and the rest. But this article makes perfectly clear neither can a bunch of hardcore military types either.
This is why Thomas Barnett has always said you need to create a 3rd cabinet-level position (“The Dept of Everything Else” he calls it).
Even with a functioning Dept of Everything Else (which doesn’t exist and by itself is sufficient grounds for failure), I don’t think the US could win the peace in Afghanistan, given its context.
If you are going to run a COIN campaign in Afghanistan, McChrystal is probably the best guy available for the job. I just don’t think a COIN campaign will ever work in Afghanistan. Obama appears to be looking for the exits while Gates and Petraeus look to cash in the extension options on the July 2011 timeline.
This says everything that needs to be said about why the COIN is failing in Afghanistan:
The most striking example of McChrystal’s usurpation of diplomatic policy is his handling of Karzai. It is McChrystal, not diplomats like Eikenberry or Holbrooke, who enjoys the best relationship with the man America is relying on to lead Afghanistan. The doctrine of counterinsurgency requires a credible government, and since Karzai is not considered credible by his own people, McChrystal has worked hard to make him so. Over the past few months, he has accompanied the president on more than 10 trips around the country, standing beside him at political meetings, or shuras, in Kandahar. In February, the day before the doomed offensive in Marja, McChrystal even drove over to the president’s palace to get him to sign off on what would be the largest military operation of the year. Karzai’s staff, however, insisted that the president was sleeping off a cold and could not be disturbed. After several hours of haggling, McChrystal finally enlisted the aid of Afghanistan’s defense minister, who persuaded Karzai’s people to wake the president from his nap.
Instead of focusing on how politically stupid McChrystal undoubtedly is, why not focus on the fact the central government in Afghanistan is not in charge of the country and will never be and that our entire COIN campaign is predicated (of its own design) on the so-called host government filling the void. There is no central state in Afghanistan, there hasn’t ever been a strong one since Mahmoud of Ghazna (11th century), and there isn’t going to be one. Certainly not one brought in by a Western imposition.
McChrystal can think Biden, Eikenberry, et. al are wimps all he wants. He can’t change the fundamental dynamics of Afghan society and all the rest is just insider baseball that has no real bearings on the issue at hand.
Update II: Breaking reports that McChrystal has offered his resignation. Probably the right thing to do at this point, though I still think this has gotten blow way out of proportion too quickly.
Update III: The deed is done. I wonder if there had been other stuff going on in the media if this story would have gotten buried?