Thursday, July 1, 2010

McChrystal: Brilliant?

I am puzzled: How can a general as brilliant as McChrystal get himself into such a trouble? Is McChrystal that brilliant?

By all accounts as reported by the media and by commentators, the problem for McChrystal seems to lie in the foul language used or in comments about current world leaders including the US President and the Vice President.

On reading the actual Rolling Stone article itself "The Runaway General", I get a different picture.

From the article, McChrystal comes across as an alert person who seems to have a disdain for authority (and hence his arrogance) but who is totally at home with the simple and ordinary people. Alert because he seems to be aware of what is going on all the time, and how things are faring at various strategic points. He therefore was not a loose cannon who bad mouth current leaders, as subsequent reports suggest.

McChrystal indeed was very careful with the words he used. The times when he was quoted using expletives was when he was commenting on situations rather than persons. In the case of his having to have dinner with the French Minister, the quote was this: "How'd I get screwed into going to this dinner?" demands Gen. Stanley McChrystal.

What the reporter Micheal Hastings did which was clever but which could have created a gross misunderstanding of McChrystal was that, in order to be able to provide anomymous quotations from the people surrounding McChrystal, he created this literally fiction called "Team McChrystal" and attributed all remarks to it. If read rapidly, it appears that McChrystal was making those remarks. Of course, those remarks who use expletives, as they were typical off-hand remarks in informal occasions.

Underneath all these remarks is the underlying argument over how the US can get out the Afganistan. The simplest solution is just to pull out. But McChrystal has argued for a so-called counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy with the purpose of first stabilising the situation in Afganistan by installing a credible government and a stable society so that a military pullout will not create a civil war.

The problem, according to the article, is that COIN seems to be a very different strategy to execute because (a) it calls for a surge in ground troops in order to maintain order and the US has sent in 30,000 more troops, (b) it calls for military restraint in that US soldiers are told not to fire at most times and this has led to a rise in US troop deaths, and (c) by pouring in financial aids, the strategy is fueling corruption and discrediting the incumbent government in the eyes of the Afgan civilians.

But if Obama has already bought the COIN strategy, then replacing may not change the strategy - unless the new general comes out with a new strategy for a US pullout from Afganistan.

McChrystal could be brilliant. If he realises that the strategy he has sold to Obama does not really now work, then the Rolling Stone article with its consequence (now known) may just be a smart way for him to get out of a very difficult place. This McChrystal has achieved.


walla said...

The fields of Afghanistan are strewn with the bones of the soldiers of Alexander the Great, the British Army, the Russian Army and now those of the US Army and its alliance forces.

Putting in Petraeus to replace McChrystal just when the Afghan administration had gotten use to the latter will create a jarring effect that will disconnect the united front the Afghan incumbents need to win the heartland from the Pashtuns.

And all the killing, maiming and destruction because a Saudi renegade lives there?

By causing massive collateral damage whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, the US are only playing to the tune of the Mujahideens, namely to rake up the body counts from suicide bombers spearheading counterattack asymmetric warfare.

One may send robotic drones into their heartland but what if the targets are amorphous and anonymous in the homeland?

Since the US can't be that dense not to have noticed their own failed design based on rolling stones gathering no moss, the reason is something else.

It is economic. Like oil in Iraq, it's minerals in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has one of the world's richest deposits in minerals - from iron ore to lithium and other rare metals that are strategically needed for modern industries.

de minimis said...

Interesting take. Quite a compelling angle. Even if the reality might be different, I like your take from a tactical perspective. You may have given some people who are caught between a rock and hard place an abject lesson in how to extricate themselves. It's akin to a wolf caught in a bear trap gnawing off its own foot, though. There's a cost to this tactic. It's called "reputation". But, for McChrystal the alternative may have been worse, consigning many good young soldiers to certain death. That would be bad karma. And, karma should trump some minor blemish on one's least that may have been on McChrystal's mind when he gave that Rolling Stone interview.