Saturday, August 1, 2009

Stanley's Army

"Tall, lanky and earnest, with the loping stride of a long-distance runner--[Stanley] McChrystal runs 10 miles before his morning coffee--the general went to Afghanistan after a top job with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington. He knows Afghanistan well. ... In October it will have been eight years since US forces first went into combat in Afghanistan against al-Qaeda and its local supporters in the Taliban. ... And the deaths in uniform are the easy ones to count: they do not encompass the thousands of Afghan villagers who have been killed by the Taliban or by errant coalition actions. Last year alone, 828 civilians were killed by US, allied or Afghan troops, 552 of them in airstrikes. ... McChrystal's task is to recalibrate the war effort so local people can see that the coalition's actions increase their security, in turn allowing them to get on with their lives. Up to now, the deaths of Afghans in the fighting have done little to aid the allies and a lot to turn the locals against foreign forces and the government of Hamid Karzai, which those forces sustain. ... 'People hate Americans,' echoes Ezatullah, a driver from the town of Maidan Shahr, 'because they kill innocent people.' To drain the hatred and give Afghanistan the room to build institutions and an economy that might, one day, heal the wounds of 30 years of war, President Barack Obama and his generals are shifting strategies. Their new doctrine emphasizes protecting the Afghan people over killing insurgents. 'What we really want is the equivalent of a peaceful takeover, where the Taliban are forced out,' McChrystal told Time. ... To that end, the directive explicitly enjoined force leaders 'to scrutinize and limit the use of force like close air support against residential compounds and other locations likely to produce civilian casualties. ... But within hours, the Marines issued a statement declaring they had 'not used artillery ... and no bombs have been dropped from aircraft' in the offensive's opening thrust. ... The war in Afghanistan is not going well. ... The offensive in Helmand is the first step in what has become America's second Afghan war. ... Using an age-old strategy, the insurgents seem to have melted away when pressured, only to pop up and attack elsewhere. ... Terrorism and the illicit drug trade have flourished in Afghanistan because the lack of a functioning economy has let warlords fill the vacuum. ... But that's quite a challenge: poppies are easy to grow and net four times as much money per acre as wheat. 'The point of security,' he says, 'is to enable governance ... My metric is not the enemy killed, not ground taken: it's how much governance we've got.' ... The new strategy, with its limits on actions that risk civilian casualties, represents a sea change in US military doctrine. ... But the military has rethought its strategy. 'You can shock and awe human beings,' McChrystal says, 'but is doesn't last. I've seen operations where kinetic strikes would go in on a target, and the enemy would come out shooting. They weren't awed.' ... And he has to be a diplomat too. Perhaps the most important military action in the region isn't happening in Afghanistan but across the border in Pakistan. ... McChrystal's official career is 33 years long, but he has, in effect, been in the Army for all of his 54 years--both his father and paternal grandfather were Army officers, his father making two-star general. ... In between stints with various special-operations units, McChrystal pulled tours at the Council on Foreign Relations and Harvard. ... Military policy in Afghanistan is now in the hands of this likeable and very, very focused soldier. An Administration and a nation are waiting to see if his plan is any better than the one it replaced. Time is in short supply. Some in Washington are leery of Afghanistan's becoming another Vietnam. ... Success is by no means assured. McChrystal's order to keep Afghan civilian casualties low, for example, may be politically savvy, but in the short term it can be militarily fraught. ... Three days later, when troops in Helmand came under fire from such a compound, they followed his order. 'We made the decision to isolate the compound and not destroy it,' a Marine captain said, 'because we couldn't confirm if civilians were inside'," my emphasis, Mark Thompson and Aryn Baker at Time, 20 July 2009, link:,8599,1909261,00.html.

Joint Chiefs? We know them. Hey Stanley, are you old enough to remember Vietnam? Do you remember Vietnam's Strategic Hamlet Program? Did you study it at Naval War College, or is it not part of the curriculum? Anyone joining Stanley's army is crazy. What good are aircraft and artillery, if you don't use them? Well leftwingers, when will you update, "Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today? One, Two, Three Four, we don't want your stinking war". We need some old leftists to march around the White (Black?) House. Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden, your country needs you. Drug trade? Didn't people grow marijuana in Vietnam? Did we see this movie before? What, incentives count? If it pays to grow poppies, farmers will. Stanley is a cliche factory. Does he want a job as a corporate governance consultant when he retires from the Army? Stanley must channel Robert McNamara. In reading this article, I kept thinking, "Is this clown a CFR-Kennedy School general"? Absolutely! Right on both counts! Heaven help Stanley's subordinates. What a metric! Is Stanley a Wall Street analyst flogging a money losing internet stock but lots of "eyeballs"? I don't care if Stanley is an asshole, first-class. Is he effective? Becoming? See also my 2 December 2008 and 3 March 2009 posts,


Anonymous said...

Vietnam was a strategic mistake. We lost, and now they're a top trading partner. Same with Afghanistan. Let's get out.

You geriatric never-saw-battle (I'd guess) cowboys, IA, are the problem.

Listen to "Master's of War," original acoustic version. Still applies.

Even George Friedman has said AfPak is a loser.

We got Iraq, now we're just being stupid and greedy and feeding our liberal guilt to keep the military-industrial complex in business.

Anonymous said...

1. Feminizing the making of war is a big mistake.

2. War is not an economic stimulus device. Although the military/industrial complex does benefit.

3. The fade away tactic has been used for eons in Afghanistan... the Russians were brought down by it.

4. Pakistan is impossibly unstable. What does our fighting in Afghanistan do in increasing volatility there?

But this is all mute because Pres-O is overwhelmed... and he picks through stacks of resumes and looks for new,highly "credentialed" faces to execute the same old same old.

No change. No hope.

Blissex said...

Curiously comments from other quarters depict McChrystal as a psychopathic terrorist:
«Putting McChrystal in charge of the expanded Afghanistan-Pakistan military operations means putting a notorious practitioner of military terrorism – the torture and assassination of opponents to US policy – at the center of US foreign policy. Obama’s quantitative and qualitative expansion of the US war in South Asia means massive numbers of refugees fleeing the destruction of their farms, homes and villages; tens of thousands of civilian deaths, and eradication of entire communities. All of this will be committed by the Obama Administraton in the quest to ‘empty the lake (displace entire populations) to catch the fish (armed insurgents and activists)’.»

Amusing contrast. Which is the propaganda? Is the "soft on civilians" message to PR the home front or viceversa?

Anonymous said...

I'm for getting out of Afghanistan... I should of said that right up front...

I'm sure there is all these geopolitical -- oil -- subtexts that the bright brains have woven into a need to cleanse the area of Taliban.

McChrystal --

If all that about McChrystal is true then we've raised the lowest of our society to one of the highest roles...

History will say of Bush and Cheney that they permanently impugned the ideals of this nation. And they economically bankrupted their country. Rot in Hades men. You could not of served us any more poorly.

What were they doing or not doing about Bin Laden? And how did the need to kill Bin Laden become the need to dominate AF/Pak?

For a bankrupt nation we sure do have big ambitions... messed up and unrealistic ambitions... unfundable ambitions.

Independent Accountant said...

I opposed our Iraq and Afghanistan adventures from the outset. I see no strategic significance to either war. I couldn't care less if the Taliban control Afghanistan. To get to us, they need a navy. Should they try to cross the Pacific to bother us, we should sink their ships and take no survivors. A Taliban navy? That's a joke. There isn't one, nor do I expect one soon.

mdeals said...

i think it is a big mistake..