Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gen. McChrystal Out, but What of the War?

After mouthing off to Rolling Stone magazine -- and apparently letting the rest of his aides do the same -- General Stanley McChrystal, lead commander of international allied forces in Afghanistan, resigned from his post. President Barack Obama, one of the targets of McChrystal's disturbing honesty, accepted the resignation and tapped Gen. David Petraeus to replace him.

President Obama made clear that the change in personnel would not indicate a change in strategy -- despite growing concern with regards to America's counterinsurgency strategy (referred to as COIN) in Afghanistan. Both McChrystal and Petraeus are strong proponents of the strategy.

That President Obama accepted McChrystal's resignation (or, as I suspect, told him to step down or be fired), is not to be disputed; the comments made by McChrystal and his aides with relation to President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other officials involved with the war in Afghanistan amounted to insubordination, and you certainly don't want a four-star general who answers to the Commander-in-Chief to display such behavior.

In fact, Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice reads:

Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

Yes, according to the UCMJ, Gen. McChrystal could've been court-marshaled because of the article in Rolling Stone. But more importantly, McChrystal had to go as Afghanistan's top commander because of his comments regarding White House officials. If America is to continue being a society in which the military is civilian-controlled, this behavior has to be unacceptable.

My issue is not with McChrystal's replacement, but with the administration's seeming refusal to address the current Afghanistan strategy. While the argument can be made that the Rolling Stone article's main focus was the concept of counterinsurgency itself (thanks for the link, Kate!), scant few of those in the media have focused on that.

After all, why concentrate on complicated military operations when one can just argue whether the president was right to replace his top commander in that war? It's so much simpler, and let's face it, there's the possibility for a lot more yelling.

And what's today's media without all that yelling, right?

I won't even pretend to understand the complexities of devising a war strategy -- or claim to understand the counterinsurgency strategy (remember this?) -- I tend to listen to military officials like Chief Adm. Eric Olson, who said, "COIN doctrine [is] an oxymoron." However, I do know this -- when we invaded Afghanistan in 2001, we did so as a swift reaction to the 9/11 attacks. Our mission was simple: find those responsible for the worst terrorist attack on our soil and bring them to justice.

Almost 10 years later, our war in Afghanistan has lost its focus, and nearly everyone who matters says that Osama bin Laden -- our presumed target in Afghanistan -- is now in Pakistan. So with that in mind, one has to ask ... why did we escalate in Afghanistan?

President Obama speaks of taking down al-Qaeda in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it sounds all well and good -- after all, President Obama promised in his campaign to re-focus our attentions on the war in Afghanistan, and he's done just that. But two problems persist:

1) Our presumed target, and probably many of his highest-ranking officials, is no longer in Afghanistan. But we still are.

2) Officially, we're not at war in or with Pakistan. Unofficially? Well, click the link to the left; The Nation's Jeremy Scahill captures the narrative like few others have. Considering United States-Pakistan relations, a war in that nation could make things ... messy.

So what's President Obama to do? He's delivered on his campaign promise to shift military focus away from Iraq (what he once called the "dumb war") and toward Afghanistan, but the question now begs asking:

Is Afghanistan still the right war?

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