Mr. President, what will victory in Afghanistan look like? You haven’t been clear on that point. Regardless of how I may feel about General Stanley McChrystal’s resignation, you and I know victory is years upon years away, and we may never know what it looks like if it does come. So, as you stand in the Rose Garden and say, “This is a change in personnel, but it is not a change in policy,” would it be too much for me to ask for a little more detail on what, in fact, the policy is, other than counterinsurgency (COIN)?
After all, in your statement accepting General McChrystal’s resignation you said, “The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general, it undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system and it erodes the trust that is necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.” What are the civilian objectives, Mr. President? May I remind you that counterinsurgency is not really an objective; it’s more of a strategy. So please don’t tell me, as a civilian, as you did back in March 2009, that the objective in Afghanistan is still about al Qaeda.
What’s clear to me, thanks to General McChrystal’s tireless efforts, is that the COIN approach coming from you was set to fail from the beginning owing to a lack of the necessary resources such a strategy requires. Let’s not forget, through defense secretary Robert Gates you chose McChrystal to carry out COIN without the appropriate number of troops. You patted him on the back, tossed him a vastly insufficient 23,000 troops, and for the next four months stonewalled him. He relentlessly tried to make it clear that many more thousands of troops would be necessary to fight COIN effectively. The amount of time he needed to wait for you and the half-hearted West Point endorsement you gave to a half-asleep audience was appalling.
And yet, more evidence of insufficient support continued to come from Afghanistan. McChrystal’s handpicked intelligence officer Major General Michael Flynn co-authored a detailed report on the intelligence problem called Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan. The most important point was the key role civilians could play in gathering intelligence on the ground. More civilian help was requested. The only thing the report seems to have collected is dust. How serious, really, is the administration about victory in this war? I can call it that, right? A war?
Where is your courage to change policy? Why not govern for change, recognizing that al Qaeda is no longer the threat it once was in Afghanistan. And yes, it would be helpful to admit we are still fighting a war on terrorism too, and not just al Qaeda, which has mostly moved on from Afghanistan. That is, of course, until your self-imposed withdrawal date comes around.
You seem confused about our objective in Afghanistan and what victory will look like. That’s dangerous. By making this political and dragging it out, additional lives will be needlessly lost, and the trillion dollars already wasted between the two wars will grow ever larger. The policy of COIN is still wrong even with General McChrystal gone. At least use the intelligence supplied by him and take this opportunity to change direction. Muddling in the middle with COIN will always be more of a political strategy than an objective—the only good objective being to protect the United States. Then again, if that were the objective, we would have been gone long ago.