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October 01, 2009

Afghanistan Mission Creep Watch - The Civil Military Relations Version
Posted by Michael Cohen

It seems that a lot of folks are up in arms about the fact that President Obama has only spoken to General Stanley McChrsytal once since he took command. As far as I'm concerned this is a mountains out of molehill story. There are several layers of command between the President and McChrystal, which should be more than appropriate to keep the president informed about what is happening in Afghanistan. I'm not clear why bypassing that well constructed command structure is necessary or even appropriate.

But when it comes to talking perhaps General McChrystal might want to do less of it publicly. First there was Sunday's 60 Minutes valentine to population centric COIN now this from a speech McChrystal delivered this week in London:

General McChrystal was asked by a member of an audience that included retired military commanders and security specialists whether he would support an idea put forward by Mr. Biden to scale back the American military presence in Afghanistan to focus on tracking down the leaders of Al Qaeda, in place of the current broader effort now under way to defeat the Taliban.

“The short answer is: no,” he said. “You have to navigate from where you are, not where you wish to be. A strategy that does not leave Afghanistan in a stable position is probably a short-sighted strategy.”

Look I understand that General McChrystal believes counter-insurgency is the only way forward in Afghanistan - and certainly that is pretty clear from reading this review - but this airing of views in public and denigration of alternative strategies (including one that may be forced upon him by his civilian commanders) is really over the top. Shouldn't the correct answer here be 'no comment' or something along the lines of 'the US military will carry out whatever strategy is decided upon by the civilian leadership'? McChrystal is continuing to put President Obama in the difficult position of either adhering to his strategy or publicly breaking with their military commander on the ground.

And this brings up another issue that Pat Lang raised recently:

In all the Army schools that I attended (Infantry Officer Basic Course to the US Army War College), it was more or less customary to present the commander with several options in the way of "courses of action."  If you do not do that then you are clearly seeking to limit the freedom of action of the commander.  This is insubordinate in spirit.

I'm not going to get into the issue of insubordination, but Lang has a point. The first page of the McChrystal review says this, "Success demands a comprehensive counter-insurgency (COIN) campaign" and offers no other possible military option to the President. That in itself is problematic. Even more problematic is the public leak of this review and then the continued public commentary by McChrystal that no other strategy in Afghanistan can possibly succeed.

McChrystal is welcome to his views; he's not welcome to go public with his views in such a way to put pressure on the Obama Administration to accept them.


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Wasn't one of Bush's biggest mistakes in Iraq NOT listening to his Generals when they went public (before Congress)? But now Generals are to work in silence before The Obama?

I don't get it.

Probably also worth noting that you felt General Petraeus was derelicting his duty when he did not dissent from the President and Commander in Chief in 2007.

Just a thought.

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