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June 30, 2010

The Immorality of Deficit Hawks
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over at AOLNews I argue that the focus on deficit spending not only risks harming the US recovery,but is a cynical effort by the GOP to extend the misery of those hurt by the downturn . . . and reap the political rewards:

With the country fixated on the adventures of Gen. Stanley McChrystal and the BP spill, it's understandable that last week's most depressing news might have passed a few people by: The U.S. Senate is intent on extending America's economic misery.
Led by all its Republican members and Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska, the Senate is filibustering a bill that includes, among other things, emergency jobless benefits. As a result, 1.2 million Americans have seen their checks cut off since June 2, a figure that could rise to 2 million over the next week.
Failure to pass this bill will do more than hurt the unemployed -- it will actually cost jobs. Twenty-four billion dollars in Medicare funding would have helped state legislatures plug their budget gaps. Without it, states like Pennsylvania will have to cut funds for substance abuse and homelessness programs and scale back funding for child welfare by one-quarter, among other steps, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
Colorado will likely have to eliminate state aid for full-day kindergarten. In Arizona, funding would be cut for state courts. And in New Mexico, fewer funds will be available for emergency hospital services. An estimated 200,000 jobs could be lost as a result.
Why is the Senate purposely hurting the unemployed -- and dealing another blow to the country's economic renewal? Well, there's the stated reason and then the real reason.
The stated reason is the deficit . . . the real reason is that Republicans really don't want to see the economy improve. Read the whole thing here.


June 29, 2010

Post - Toronto Summit Reflections
Posted by David Shorr

Fresh from a whirlwind of G-8/20 summitry, I thought I'd share some assorted observations and impressions.

Non-binding not same as non-acting. Media skepticism about whether diplomatic conferences accomplish anything goes with the multilateral territory, and Toronto was no exception. There was a steady refrain of "the leaders are just putting out a lot of vague, toothless, and meaningless words rather than doing or committing to anything." This is a too-easy knock in general, but it confronts three particular problems in this case.

First, leveling a charge of complacency against the same G-20 that acted decisively to avert a great depression is a tough one. Second, unlike a traditional multilateral bodies, the Gs have no formal decision-making rules, legal charter or authority. So while the G groupings should be judged by their contributions to a more prosperous and peaceful global order -- like any intergovernmental forum -- expecting them to forge detailed binding agreements is barking up the wrong tree. Any fair critique of multilateral process should factor in the nature of the problem it confronts.

Which brings me to the third difficulty with the slams against the Toronto summit: the global macroeconomic imbalances at the center of its agenda. You can say a lot of things about the inequities of the globalized economy and the shortsightedness that left the United States with such a concentration of global consumption, and the debt that financed it. For the present purposes, though, the question is the policy and diplomatic "degree of difficulty" of bringing the major economies into better balance. And I don't see how one can argue that -- in the short time since the major economies even took on board the agenda of "strong, sustainable, and balanced economic growth" -- the leaders in Toronto should have been able to agree on a set of solutions. This is the point I made in Sewell Chan's post-game analysis in Tuesday's New York Times, in chorus with my close Canadian collaborator Alan Alexandroff (who blogs at Rising BRICSAM). In other words, the balanced growth agenda outlined in the Toronto communique should be filled under walk-before-run rather than all-talk-no-action.

It's a mixed-up world. The tensions over global imbalances pit nations oriented toward domestic consumption against export led economies -- not developed versus underdeveloped or neoliberal versus statist. That's why the US and Germany were at odds in Toronto (particularly once China made a related pre-summit gesture on its currency valuation). This may well emerge as a (non-)pattern of international politics; the fault lines might increasingly run every which way, varying according to the items on the multilateral agenda. On the one hand, this could make international cooperation dauntingly complex. On the other hand, the fluidity may be just the tonic for the sclerosis that often plagues multilateral diplomacy.

Pfennig wise and Euro foolish. The tensions in Toronto over public expenditures claimed a surprising victim: a G8 initiative combatting the spread of WMD. The Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction provides for the cost of dismantling arms and tightening security at related facilities, having been launched in 2002 with a ten-year commitment and pledges of $20 billion. With two years remaining on its original mandate and President Obama's push to secure all the world's vulnerable nuclear material, supporters are already pointing the way for extension and expansion of the effort (my own Stanley Foundation recently published a brief by a top official responsible for the program, Amb. Bonnie Jenkins). Unfortunately, the Toronto summit was not the most hospitable venue for new budgetary pledges. This reaction released by the Fissile Materials Working Group voices the frustration of outside experts over the impasse.

South Korea rising / stepping up. The next G-20 summit venue will be Seoul in November. Coincidentally, that will also be the site of a 2012 summit following up on the recent Nuclear Security Summit (the G-47?) in Washington. This begs the question of whether the Republic of Korea is donning the mantle of global leadership as a conscious element of its foreign policy. Fortunately Korea's G-20 hosting committee held a briefing in Toronto, so I could ask its spokesperson. Here's the core of her response:

We believe it is time for Korea to not only share in terms of economic success but also in terms of responsibility and add its voice to the world in terms of trying to cooperate in major international policy decisions. The nuclear issue is one that is very close to Korea [so to speak] as well as G20 summit. Past economic experiences have taught us that it is vital to make sure your voice is included in terms of making global policy decisions. We take that responsibility very seriously and see this as stepping up to the responsibility Korea needs to take.

She also emphasized the great story Korea has to tell about its transition from developing nation to an industrialized one.

June 28, 2010

Putting COIN Under the Microscope
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over at abumuqawama Andrew Exum once again defends COIN practitioners:

Advocates and practitioners of counterinsurgency get unfairly tagged as an insular bunch closed to competing theories or criticism.

. . . If counterinsurgency as practiced by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps has developed into some kind of rigid step-by-step process, we’re not correctly applying the doctrine. Even tactical light infantry doctrine, like FM 7-8, allows for leaders on the ground to shape their tactics and operations depending on variables such as the mission, enemy, time, troops, terrain, civilians on the battlefield, etc. FM 3-24 is no different and in fact stresses the need for leaders to remain flexible and to adapt the doctrine to the war – not to try and force the environment to fit the doctrine.

Yet the precise opposite is happening on the ground in Afghanistan. As FM 3-24 reminds us, counterinsurgency is nearly impossible to wage successfully without support from a host country government that inspires loyalty and support among the population. Moreover, a dispassionate look at COIN experiences tells us of the importance of political will in waging a COIN fight and the challenges of trying to wage a counterinsurgency against an enemy that has an unmolested safe haven. All of these factors were well-known in the summer of 2009 when General McChrystal wrote his review of Afghanistan policy on which Andrew participated (there were even some of us who were writing about these problems at the time) - and all of them remain obvious now.

Yet, this did not stop General McChrystal from recommending to the President that ONLY a counter-insurgency strategy could work in Afghanistan. Is there a better example of forcing the environment to fit the doctrine? Afghanistan is the ultimate example of trying to put a square peg (COIN) into a round hole (Afghanistan). Andrew argues that COIN is adaptable and that commanders on the ground adapt to changing circumstances. Really? While one could argue this happened quite effectively in Iraq I've seen very little evidence of this in our Afghanistan policy. 

Indeed, folks like Andrew's boss John Nagl, fellow McChrystal review participant Stephen Biddle and war cheerleader Max Boot have consistently and forcefully argued that population centric COIN is the only way to achieve US goals in Afghanistan - or even more bizarrely as Nagl argued last week in the Daily News that COIN is clearly working in Afghanistan. These really don't sound like the words of a man seeking "pragmatic solutions for political and military decision-makers?" No they sound like the words of an individual maintaining adherence to a flawed strategy in the face of significant evidence to the contrary.

Or what about David Kilcullen who Exum claims is only trying to offer helpful advice to military leaders on how they might go about fighting a counter-insurgency in Afghanistan. Here's what he had to say last November in rejecting a middle course for Afghanistan:

Time is running out for us to make a decision. We can either put in enough troops to control the environment or we can credibly communicate our intention to leave. Either could work. Splitting the difference is not the way to go. If you have 40,000 troops it would be do-able. Anything less than 25,000 is throwing good money after bad.

So basically it's COIN or nothing - a simplistic binary choice that has for at least a year now been the favored rhetorical device of some COIN advocates who reject anything other than a population-centric counter-insurgency mission for Afghanistan.

And you know who else pretty clearly seemed to feel this way and demonstrated a slavish adherence to COIN doctrine in the face of evidence to the contrary and firmly rejected any sort of counter-terrorism approach for Afghanistan - General Stanley McChrystal. 

But Andrew goes further, claiming "some academic critics of counterinsurgency doctrine and strategies mistakenly assume that many theorist-practitioners who write about counterinsurgency will be fiercely protective over their theories." He goes on, "no serious theorist or practitioner of counterinsurgency does not welcome the scrutiny that has been applied to existing theories, doctrine and strategies."

I will give Andrew great credit for being open to questioning COIN doctrine. His recent post looking at some of the flawed assumptions underpinning Afghan strategy was an important contribution to public debate particularly since its never easy to question core assumptions in public. But the very notion that this has happened among other COIN practitioners to date or that it's happening in the halls of government . . . well what war has he been watching?

Andrew is right that the academic study of COIN theory is a very good thing - particularly since so much of what passes for modern counter-insurgency doctrine in the US military is ahistorical, doesn't reflect US interests and capabilities and badly misunderstands the process of building state legitimacy. 

What would be helpful for modern COIN doctrine is if those attempting to implement this misguided approach - and those who remain its strongest supporters - would actually listen to the critics and integrate their warning. But they're not. Instead you have President Obama solemnly declaring that the current strategy won't be changed or even more bizarrely decrying public "obsession" with the 18-month timeline for commencing withdrawals that he offered in his West Point speech.

There are giant holes in our current counter-insurgency strategy for Afghanistan and the past six months has further exposed these flaws - even more deeply confirming many of the predictions made by COIN opponents last fall. Yet, while the pundit world slowly seems to be waking up to these problems the policymakers appear to be doubling down on a failed strategy and offering the same divorced from reality statements on Afghanistan that we saw about Iraq in 2006.

And you know what: that might make for a good blog post.

Winning in Losing
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Elmira Bayrasli reminds why, even though the Balkans have fallen off the front page and the editorial page, Americans should still pause on Vidovdan and contemplate how differently cultures respond to the challenges of defeat and the demands of memory.

Here's Another Reason For Obama To Be Worried About Afghanistan
Posted by Michael Cohen

Remember when progressives used to say during the Iraq War that no democracy can fight a foreign war when public opinion is opposed to it . . . well it might be time to dust off those old talking points.

According to the latest Newsweek poll, support for the war in Afghanistan and President Obama's handling of it is in steep decline. A mere 37% of American approve of Obama's management of the war and 53% are opposed. Even worse, only 26% of Americans think we're winning in Afghanistan while just under a majority (46%) think we're losing. (The shocking stat here is that one quarter of all Americans actually think we're winning.)

And this is a sharp decline from the poll results we were seeing at the beginning of the month when an ABC/Washington Post poll showed 42% who thought we were winning the war and 39% who said we were losing.

And this appears to be affecting people's views on the war on terror with 43% saying we're losing it and 29% saying we're ahead. Considering that two recent terrorist attacks against the US were foiled (and were bumbling efforts), we haven't been hit in 9 years by a terrorist attack and Leon Panetta just got done saying on TV that al Qaeda is at its weakest point since 9/11 . . . well that is a stunning poll result.

And as George Bush and John McCain can tell you; once the public decides that a war is lost it's very difficult to bring them back around again. If ever there was a time to consider a change in strategy it would be right now - declining poll numbers, new general, concern in Congress etc. The fact that Obama seems to be stubbornly adhering to a policy that very few people outside of the government seem to think is working should be a huge area of concern, particularly for progressives. After all doubling down on a failing policy traditionally has not worked out well for Democrats with ambitious domestic agendas.

What's Our End Game for Afghanistan?
Posted by Michael Cohen

I'm still trying to make heads or tails of Leon Panetta's interview yesterday on " This Week" and the Administration's consistent downplaying of the possibility of reconciliation with the Taliban. Consider these quotes:

“We’ve seen no evidence of that and, very frankly, my view is that with regards to reconciliation, unless they’re convinced that the United States is going to win and that they’re going to be defeated, I think it’s very difficult to proceed with a reconciliation that’s going to be meaningful.” 

“We have seen no evidence that they are truly interested in reconciliation, where they would surrender their arms, where they would denounce Al Qaida, where they would really try to become part of that society.” 

First off, it's worth noting that "that society" is their society - and as the Army's public opinion polling has shown there is, in southern Afghanistan, widespread sympathy with the Taliban. That the CIA Director is making this statement the same day that word comes from al Jazeera that Hamid Karzai has met with Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani - and after repeated news stories about talks between Karzai and Taliban - is even more distressing.  What possible rationale is there for the US to throw cold water on political negotiations that would not only end the war sooner, but are acceptable to the Afghan leadership . . . you know the people who actually have to live in Afghanistan? Don't we want a political end to this conflict rather than more years of war toward reaching an uncertain goal? 

The continued reluctance of the Obama Administration to embrace the possibility of political reconciliation with the Taliban just makes no sense to me. How hard would it be for US leaders to publicly float the idea that we can accept a political role for the Taliban as long as they don't allow any al Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan? After all, isn't that all we really care about from a narrow US national interest perspective?

Second, is Panetta's even more bizarre statement that reconciliation with the Taliban is not possible "unless they’re convinced that the United States is going to win and that they’re going to be defeated." Well then I guess reconciliation is never going to be achieved because we're not going to win in Afghanistan and we're not going to defeat the Taliban - something that the Taliban and even President Karzai seem to understand quite well. Would Karzai even be negotiating with Taliban leaders if he believed that the US is going to "win" in Afghanistan? Moreover, it seems to me that Panetta's statement today reflects are far more ambitious strategy in Afghanistan than what has been described by President Obama who speaks more clearly of reversing the Taliban's momentum rather than defeating them. 

That brings us to the third problem; the notion that reconciliation is not possible unless the Taliban surrender their arms and denounce al Qaeda.  Does anyone actually think that Taliban surrendering their arms is a realistic end game for this conflict? And what about al Qaeda? In the same interview, Panetta also said that al Qaeda is "probably at its weakest point since 9/11 and their escape from Afghanistan into Pakistan."

This begs the question, if al Qaeda is so weak and its influence so diminished - wouldn't this actually be a good time to make a deal with the Taliban? After all the preeminent US goal in Afghanistan is not to defeat the Taliban, it's to defeat al Qaeda. It seems as though the best time to separate the two groups would be when AQ is the weakest and the Taliban have the least to gain by being allied with them. Is the Taliban really going to go for the mat that not only is a hollow shell of itself, but actually creates more not less problems for them? There seems to be a view in the Administration that the Taliban and al Qaeda are inextricably linked, but this seems to reflect a real lack of imagination on the part of US policymakers. Is it really so hard to imagine a deal with the Taliban that involves them ending support for al Qaeda in Afghanistan? 

Panetta's interview only further confuses the issue of what the US end game for Afghanistan might actually look like. Rhetorically, the Administration talks on the one hand about minimal goals of defeating AQ, preventing Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven for terrorist groups and getting out of the country beginning in 18 months . . . and then on the other hand, places obstacles in front of any sort of political negotiations with the Taliban and pooh-poohs the notion that reconciliation can occur without deeper US military involvement in the conflict.

It really does beg the question; what are we willing to accept as an end state in Afghanistan and do we have any plan to get there? Listening to US policymakers in recent days it seems that neither question has been satisfactorily addressed or answered.

June 25, 2010

More on Lefty Silence on Afghanistan
Posted by Michael Cohen

So a couple of week ago I wrote a rather lengthy essay for the New Republic on the silence of the left in criticizing Afghanistan policy. Several people (including a rather prominent progressive national security expert who will go nameless) made the rather excellent point that it wasn't just the blogosphere and think tanks that had been silent on Afghanistan policy; it was also the liberal advocacy groups. 

For editorial reasons that particular point didn't make it into the final version of my TNR piece. So with some bemusement I feel the need to highlight this rather curious incident over at the website

I'm not always in agreement with MoveOn, but in general I think they do important work on behalf of progressive goals. One notable exception was this ad that referred to General David Petraeus as General Betray Us. While I was sympathetic to the notion that General Petraeus was presenting Congress and the American people wit  an overly rosy view of the war in Iraq (and said so at the time) this ad was in incredibly poor taste and actually undercut the progressive argument against the surge. 

Yet, MoveOn kept that ad up on its website for three years . . . until a few days ago when it decided to remove it. One can draw their own conclusions as to the reasons for its sudden removal, but clearly it's not too hard to figure out why: Petraeus is on our team now! 

Surely if MoveOn believed its "Betray Us" ad was correct then (and has been correct for the past three years) I can't see how President Obama appointing Petraeus to be the US commander in Afghanistan changes anything. 

What's even more surprising is that MoveOn has been critical of the war in Afghanistan and of escalation (although there is no mention of the war on its homepage today). The fact is, a change in command doesn't change the fundamental incoherence of our current strategy, which President Obama made clear on Wednesday will remain the same. If MoveOn thinks the war is a mistake it should say so - but then again so should a lot of people.

June 24, 2010

Should Liberals Be Angry with President Obama? (If So, How Much?)
Posted by Shadi Hamid

So something's been bothering me for a while, but especially lately. You might call it, in one great philosopher's words, "the soft bigotry of low expectations." It goes something like this: Politics is difficult and messy and Obama is doing the best he can under the circumstances, not to mention an unwieldy congress. Even if this was an accurate description of reality, as Jon Chait, Matt Yglesias, and Ezra Klein have argued, that doesn't mean we should defer to that reality. Maybe I'm odd, but I don't think that actions should always be judged by their results. In other words, if you fight for something, and it doesn't happen (and couldn't have happened), that, by itself, is not an argument for not fighting for it. So, in my perturbed state, I wrote a short piece in the Huffington Post on why liberals are angry with Obama - and why they probably should be. You can give it a read here. And here's a teaser: 

First of all, the reason many liberals supported Obama was because he didn't seem afraid to be liberal. He had the courage of his convictions and was willing to speak to the American people honestly and directly about the country's challenges. His charisma would allow him to articulate liberal policies and principles in clear terms. In doing so, he would build popular support for progressive policies and move the American electorate to the left. He wouldn't accept Republican framing as a given and insist on presenting liberal policies in those terms. For once, we'd have Democrats who were proud of being liberals and didn't feel compelled to apologize for what they actually thought.

Speaking for myself, I am aware we have a legislative branch and that the President can't bend it to his will and that's a good thing in a democracy. But that assumes that liberals (or, really, anyone else) judge success by legislation passed. Well, I personally don't really care about the specifics of climate legislation. Like most Americans, I don't know anything about climate change. Sorry, but I don't lose sleep at night about it (although I'm willing to be convinced that I should). To the extent that the Left is, or was, anything, it probably has to do more with a clear demarcation of principle (alternatively known as "idealism" or perhaps "romanticism") than actual policies that can be objectively described as "liberal" or "leftist." I think this is what mainstream bloggers who write a lot about policy get wrong. While most Americans may in some abstract sense care about policy, they don't care - or know about - policy specifics or specific policies. Which goes a long toward answering why, despite the fact that all our preferred policies poll extremely well (and Republican policies poll pretty badly), people have an odd preference for voting Republican more than we might otherwise expect.

Put differently, I don't feel very strongly about the particular details of the healthcare bill. What bothered me wasn't the actual legislation, but the sense that Obama and his team weren't interested in fighting for what liberals wanted (i.e. the public option). It might not have worked, but it would have been nice to see arm-twisting of conservative democrats to consider the public option rather than of liberal democrats to give it up. Again, the tangible outcome of such arm-twisting is beside the point. The point is the actual arm-twisting - and that it be visible.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Looking on the Bright Side of the M4/P4 Swap
Posted by Michael Cohen

So I think it's pretty safe to say that I have a rather pessimistic attitude toward the current US mission in Afghanistan - and theoretically the replacement of one COIN devotee with an even bigger COIN devotee should little do cheer up my mood, but as it turns out that's not the case.  I'm actually feeling surprising upbeat today.

It starts with the words of President Obama in the Rose Garden yesterday, General McChrystal's actions - according to Obama, "undermine the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system." Exactly right. Obama fired his commanding general in Afghanistan because McChrystal's insubordinate behavior threatens the very foundation of civilian-military relations. And by Obama sacking McChrystal he is sending an unmistakable signal to the armed forces - I'm in charge. 

All of this matters because the words captured by Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings were not some isolated incident. They reflect a level of disrespect for the commander-in-chief that goes back to last year's Afghanistan review. Whether it was the constant leaks that boxed Obama in on escalating in Afghanistan or the off-the-record criticisms of Obama by "senior military officials" or even McChrystal's appearance in London last October that dismissed the Vice President's call for a counter-terrorism policy it's been a pretty steady drumbeat of rather brazen military pushback. And it wasn't just words; from a strategic standpoint McChrystal's approach in Afghanistan has seemingly flouted the President's timeline for commencing withdrawals of June 2011 and his order not to send American troops anywhere that can't be turned over to the ANSF by that date. The disconnect between our military strategy and the president's guidance had become palpable. 

And let's face it, the level of disrespect in the military for the president (particularly those with a D next to their name) goes back even further. As Bob Killebrew, a Senior Fellow at CNAS said to me in an e-mail conversation, "When I came into the Army in the late '60s, political discussions just didn't happen -- at least where I was.  The atmosphere changed noticeably when Clinton was elected -- at least, that was the first time I saw junior officers at a social gathering joking about the commander-in-chief in front of their seniors and not being corrected." For practically the last 20 years, in ways both trivial and deeply consequential, the civilian military balance has slowly eroded.

Today, Barack Obama put an end to all that. Thanks to Stan McChrystal's astonishing lack of judgment the President was given the opportunity to publicly reassert civilian control of the armed forces - and he did it in the most forceful way imaginable. That, in of itself, would make today's event a very good thing.

But I think the implications run deeper. First of all, something tells me that there won't be too many officers wiling to speak ill of the commander-in-chief to a reporter any time soon. The back-biting and the increasingly tense relationship between the civilian leadership and the armed forces is also unlikely to continue; and again, not a moment too soon. If there are military officers worried about the president's decision-making or the current strategy in Afghanistan I can't imagine you're going to be hearing much about it in the pages of the New York Times or Washington Post.

Second, remember that Jonathan Alter article a few weeks ago where President Obama is quoted as asking General Petraeus if he could get the mission in Afghanistan completed in 18 months - and if not no one is going to suggest the US should stay longer in Afghanistan - and Petraeus responded, "Yes sir."

Well it's pretty hard to see how Petraeus gets to walk away from that. So this talk I keep reading about how picking Petraeus means we're likely going to stay in Afghanistan even longer doesn't ring true at all.  If anything, the exact opposite and it seems as though Petraeus will now be under enormous pressure to stick by his promise to Obama and begin troop withdrawals by 2011. Maybe at one point Obama might have bended the rules or even been flexible if McChrystal or Petraeus were able to show "progress" in Afghanistan; not anymore.

And while this is unlikely to lead to a wholesale - and much-needed - change in strategy one would imagine that it might lead to other important tactical changes around the margins. For example, it will be very interesting to see if the long-planned offensive in Kandahar, which would almost certainly lengthen US involvement in the Afghan fight, still happens. Or perhaps there will be new efforts to open political negotiations with the Taliban. And I'll even be even more curious to see if the current, restrictive rules of engagement for US troops are relaxed by a general who hardly practiced the same sort of population centric COIN so favored by McChrystal. Quite simply, there is going to be enormous pressure on Petraeus to show results, particularly by December when the first major review of the Afghanistan policy is supposed to occur.

In the end, what matters perhaps more than anything else is that Obama is now quite firmly in charge of Afghan policy - and the longer, even open-ended, commitment favored by the generals is on the outs.

Yglesias argues that "the political power of the doves in the administration is relatively low vis-a-vis the political power of hawks in uniform." But I think this is backwards; this whole episode has strengthened Obama immeasurably (Josh Marshall makes a similar point) It's allowed him to assert his control over the war effort and it's made it much, much harder for the military to put up any sort of fight - even against a policy they oppose.

To be sure, there is still major reason for concern about our current Afghanistan policy; and a new strategy would really help. But this whole episode has shifted the civilian/military balance in a potentially positive direction. The funny thing about this is that when Obama saw that Rolling Stone piece on Monday you have to think his reaction was "what's next." Who would have guessed that three days later he'd be smelling like roses

(BTW, if there is one other bright side from this whole situation it's that I may never have to spell the word McChrystal again - not that Petraeus is much of a walk in the park either, but still).

June 23, 2010

Time To Admit Afghan Strategy Isn't Working
Posted by Michael Cohen

Over at AOL I have a new piece up arguing (surprise, surprise) the big takeaway from Bite-Me-Gate it that the current strategy isn't working: 

The bombshell Rolling Stone article featuring disparaging quotes from Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his staff about civilian leaders has shaken official Washington over the past 24 hours. As it should. Their words demonstrate a breathtaking level of arrogance, poor judgment and behavior verging on formal insubordination.

But while we wait to see how President Barack Obama will respond, there is a far more important takeaway from this episode: Increasingly, it appears that the president's strategy for success in Afghanistan simply is not working. 

In fact, the most important quote from the article might be the admission by a senior adviser to McChrystal that "if Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular." Maybe now they will.

Since last year, McChrystal's strategy has been one of population-centric counterinsurgency, a resource- and time-intensive strategy that focuses on cultivating the hearts and minds of local civilians rather than targeting the enemy directly. According to the Army's counterinsurgency manual, the key to an effective "COIN" strategy is a reliable host country partner that is seen as legitimate in the eyes of its citizens. But as the Rolling Stone piece makes clear, McChrystal's approach is failing. 

 Read the whole thing here:

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