General McChrystal Recalled: What’s Important About This?

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 6 months ago

General Stanley McChrystal and his staff have allowed close access by Michael Hastings writing for Rolling Stone, and the report contains somewhat embarrassing information for the Obama administration.  You can read for yourself and judge whether the views expressed by the General and his staff rise to the level of insubordination, and if so, what should be done about it.  Frankly, I don’t think it matters very much.  But when considered as part of the general warp and woof of their relationship, it’s a little late to be complaining about how dense the administration officials are, regardless of how true that view is.  Recall that this conversation took place.

Inside the Oval Office, Obama asked Petraeus, “David, tell me now. I want you to be honest with me. You can do this in 18 months?”

“Sir, I’m confident we can train and hand over to the ANA [Afghan National Army] in that time frame,” Petraeus replied.

“Good. No problem,” the president said. “If you can’t do the things you say you can in 18 months, then no one is going to suggest we stay, right?”

“Yes, sir, in agreement,” Petraeus said.

“Yes, sir,” Mullen said.

The president was crisp but informal. “Bob, you have any problems?” he asked Gates, who said he was fine with it.

The president then encapsulated the new policy: in quickly, out quickly, focus on Al Qaeda, and build the Afghan Army. “I’m not asking you to change what you believe, but if you don’t agree with me that we can execute this, say so now,” he said. No one said anything.

“Tell me now,” Obama repeated.

“Fully support, sir,” Mullen said.

“Ditto,” Petraeus said.

General McChrystal had to be aware of the stipulations when he took the assignment.  The time to have told the administration that commitment to a counterinsurgency campaign would take another half decade or more and that military force would have to be applied was a year ago.  But in the focus on not missing the forest for the trees, it’s important not to miss the tress for looking at the forest.  At least, the important trees should be studied.

There is such a tree in this report in The Washington Post that deserves our utmost attention.

A few weeks ago, according to the magazine, the general traveled to a small outpost in Kandahar province, in southern Afghanistan, to meet with a unit of soldiers reeling from the loss of a comrade, 23-year-old Cpl. Michael Ingram.

The corporal was killed in a booby-trapped house that some of the unit’s commanders had unsuccessfully sought permission to blow up.

One soldier at the outpost showed Hastings, who was traveling with the general, a written directive instructing troops to “patrol only in areas that you are reasonably certain that you will not have to defend yourself with lethal force.”

During a tense meeting with Ingram’s platoon, one sergeant tells McChrystal: “Sir, some of the guys here, sir, think we’re losing, sir.”

McChrystal has championed a counterinsurgency strategy that prioritizes protecting the population as a means to marginalize and ultimately defeat the insurgency. Because new rules sharply restrict the circumstances under which airstrikes and other lethal operations that have resulted in civilian casualties can be conducted, some soldiers say the strategy has left them more exposed.

When you cannot patrol in areas where you think you might engage in kinetic operations because of the highly restrictive rules, you know that the campaign won’t last much longer.  Similarly, another NCO believes that the rules of engagement are too prohibitive to achieve sustained tactical success.  He reports that villagers are quite literally laughing at U.S. troop casualties, and that they cannot even obtain approval for illumination rounds to assist in withdrawal during firefights.

When NCOs begin to give these kinds of reports, we know that there is something badly wrong with the campaign on a much deeper level than mere sniping between civilian and military authorities.  We are losing the campaign in Afghanistan, and recalling General McChrystal won’t change that.  Much deeper changes need to be made, and a much deeper commitment should become evident by the administration, or men will die for a failing cause.  The time to make these changes has almost run out.



  • janetkidcat

    My son is there and it makes me want to cry. We either need to let the troops do their job or bring them home.

  • Warbucks

    Herschel, who’s on the short list to fill McChrystal’s post, if and when?

  • DesertPete45

    I don’t think it matters much who takes over because as with all the sycophants listed above the new person will be subject to the control of the worse president our country has evern know, a prez who wants to destroy our way of life, redistribute wealth, make us poorer, increase price of fuel and life in general except for him, he is set for life. Janetkidcat I agree with you.
    Either unfetter our guys and let them kill the enemy or bring them home.
    By the way we needed them on our southern border.

  • DesertPete45

    Oh, by the way Janetkidcat. May God bless your son and give him our warmest regards.

  • http://www.tenfingers6strings.com TF6S

    Herschel,

    Great post as always. Your sober assessment here is quite disheartening, but nice work with a clear analysis that definitely cuts through a lot of the fog surrounding this mess.

    I have a few questions/comments for the group that I can’t seem to get my head around. Something doesn’t quite sit well with me in that Newsweek Article that “quotes” the exchange between Petraeus, Mullen & Obama. In reading “A Question of Command, Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq,” Mark Moyar’s portrayal and analysis of Petraeus’s leadership-style and philosophy seems to bely this exchange. A couple comments that lead to my questions:

    1) Petraeus valued adaptive leadership over all else and specifically allowed commanders to skirt the current counterinsurgency field manual that said minimal amounts of force were to be used. He advocated and allowed offensive, even major offensive, operations as facts on the ground dictated.

    2) Petraeus gave very sober reports back to his civilian bosses throughout the campaign. As successes in 2007 started to be realized, he cautioned them that there was a LOT of work left to do and while the Iraqi Army had some very good Lt grade officers coming up, it would take a while before they had senior commanders that could handle things without direct American command for a while. To ensure success, we had to remain committed into the future to solidify these gains.

    So, in context with these facts, the NW exchange doesn’t sit well with me. Either the exchange that was reported didn’t actually happen this way, or Petraeus is directly contradicting his lifetime of work and what he specifically did to ensure that the “Surge” in Iraq would succeed. Do you really think he specifically told Obama that COIN could be pulled off in 18 months? If so, what would lead him to believe that AfPak would be easier to pull off when the realities are that the ANA was a much bigger mess and that the terrain and civil institutions in far worse shape?

    I hope my tone isn’t sarcastic as I sincerely have these questions. You guys probably have a much better pulse on what is going on than I do.

  • TSAlfabet

    Great point, TF.

    Like they used to say about the old Soviet rags, “Izvestia” (News) and “Pravda” (Truth): there’s no Izvestia in Pravda and no Pravda in Izvestia. Same can be said about Newsweek, Time and other such liberal talking point rags.

    It has been bothering me for months that Petraeus has seemed to be AWOL on A-stan. It could well be that he is delivering sobering reports to the White House which are promptly ignored or put in the round file, but at some point I believe a commander like Petraeus or McChrystal needs to tender a resignation if the POTUS is unwilling to heed his advice and the lives of soldiers and marines are being thrown away to no good purpose. Let Obama find another general whose conscience does not bother him or her about following the disastrous non-strategy we have.

    The Captain makes a good point that there are a few trees worth looking at and another such tree is found in the Rolling Stone article linked by the Captain above. Near the end of the article, the author reports on what appears to be the same meeting with troops at the outpost near Kandahar.

    Allow me to quote at some length here because it illuminates even further the mentality of McChrystal and what is so wrong with our ROE:

    From page 5 of the on-line version of the story:

    During the question-and-answer period, the frustration boils over. The soldiers complain about not being allowed to use lethal force, about watching insurgents they detain be freed for lack of evidence. They want to be able to fight – like they did in Iraq, like they had in Afghanistan before McChrystal. “We aren’t putting fear into the Taliban,” one soldier says.

    “Winning hearts and minds in COIN is a coldblooded thing,” McChrystal says, citing an oft-repeated maxim that you can’t kill your way out of Afghanistan. “The Russians killed 1 million Afghans, and that didn’t work.”

    “I’m not saying go out and kill everybody, sir,” the soldier persists. “You say we’ve stopped the momentum of the insurgency. I don’t believe that’s true in this area. The more we pull back, the more we restrain ourselves, the stronger it’s getting.”

    “I agree with you,” McChrystal says. “In this area, we’ve not made progress, probably. You have to show strength here, you have to use fire. What I’m telling you is, fire costs you. What do you want to do? You want to wipe the population out here and resettle it?”

    A soldier complains that under the rules, any insurgent who doesn’t have a weapon is immediately assumed to be a civilian. “That’s the way this game is,” McChrystal says. “It’s complex. I can’t just decide: It’s shirts and skins, and we’ll kill all the shirts.”

    As the discussion ends, McChrystal seems to sense that he hasn’t succeeded at easing the men’s anger. He makes one last-ditch effort to reach them, acknowledging the death of Cpl. Ingram. “There’s no way I can make that easier,” he tells them. “No way I can pretend it won’t hurt. No way I can tell you not to feel that. . . . I will tell you, you’re doing a great job. Don’t let the frustration get to you.” The session ends with no clapping, and no real resolution. McChrystal may have sold President Obama on counterinsurgency, but many of his own men aren’t buying it.

    A couple observations:
    1. If you read the entire article there is no mistaking the leftist, anti-war opinions of the author which are thrown around as factual conclusions without support, but, nonetheless, the portrait of McChrystal painted by Hastings is eerily similar to the one discussed in the Captain’s post about Marjah being a “bleeding ulcer.” He is an arrogant and contemptuous and treats the soldiers accordingly with arguments that are absurd, i.e., having to kill everyone in Kandahar and “wiping out the entire population” and not being able to call “shirts and skins.” This is ridiculous reasoning, unworthy of a commander tasked with winning in A-stan.

    2. McChrystal says that winning hearts and minds is a “cold-blooded thing…” What? Tell that to the Marines in Ramadi and Fallujah. And Mosul and Baghdad and Tal Afar and everywhere else in Iraq.

    3. McChrystal does seem to buy into this wrong-headed notion that every Taliban that is killed increases the insurgency by some factor. According to this well-worn theory, you cannot kill your way out of an insurgency. This is a non sequitur. You cannot win in counterinsurgency if you kill the insurgents but you surely cannot win by not killing the insurgents. So victory is impossible?

    4. I get the feeling that we are looking at the Baltimore Orioles in Afghanistan. By that I mean that every Orioles fan is forced to endure what is shaping up to be one of the worst, losing seasons on record and there seems to be no cure. Different managers are fired and new ones brought in to try to right the team but to no avail. The answer is not to give up on baseball and conclude that it is just too hard to win in Baltimore and shut down the stadium. There is a deeper need for change. But, sadly, it is change that appears beyond our reach. We cannot compel Obama to “sell the team” to new, competent ownership any more than the Orioles’ owner can be compelled to do likewise. So we do the best that we can and prepare for 2012 and hope that the franchise is not ruined beyond repair by then.

  • Warbucks

    Throwing my ball in from left field, as the intuitive non-analyst of the group, there is a thesis referred to (just Google it) as “Iron Mountain Report” which posits, among other ponder-ables, that the goal of the power-nations is one world government, depopulation down to 8% of our current world population, return to an agrarian – yet highly scientific society, and the best means of reaching this state is through created natural environmental disasters in place of war.

    Crazy right?

    To the detached globalist mind that holds and sees no emotional attachment to any nation-state-status, any belief system, other than hate and repulsion, to that globalist mind, more control can be asserted over global populations through contrived environmental disasters than war, with the exception that nuclear war is a trump card that insures environmental toxicity but at a cost too great for global management.

    The point being, the oil disaster is a better crises to exploit to manage populations, destroy corporate powers (seen as usurpers of central planning authority), strip citizens of economic independence, and declare emergency powers, than the war.

    This translates into a continuation of purposefully implementing losing policies in the war, which assists in the 2012 election-cycle-political-base to preserve the current presidential office for one more round. If the Iron Mountain Report has any truth or merit — some say its just fantasy, a fantasy also carved in stone at considerable expense, on the Georgia Monument —, then look past the current Gen. McChrystal bruh-ha-ha for superficial tweakings that only amount to a continuation of losing policies.

    The real war energies of globalist government continue shifting over to the substitute for war, i.e. environmental disasters.

    It’s really foggy out here in left field, I hope no one hits me with a pop-fly ball to catch.

  • http://www.tenfingers6strings.com TF6S

    TSAlfa: exactly. There are so many things that are happening over there right now that McChrystal is doing that are the very opposite of the basics of what Petraeus did in Iraq. Based on adaptive leadership, if Petraeus was running the show, he would allow the commanders on the ground to order offensive ops how they see fit. The ROE would not be an issue.

    This is where my knowledge falls short. I’m not exactly sure the relationship between CENTCOM and a particular theater anymore. Maybe Petraeus thinks that things are going to hell over there, but McC has the ability to implement his plan? I guess that would fall under the heading of adaptive leadership, but if Petraeus is giving a commander freedom to do what he sees fit, and that commander is executing a plan that is against what brought you victory previously, then you have an issue.

    Maybe Petraeus can’t do anything because of McChystal’s very visible appointment by the President? Maybe he thinks McC is getting is wrong, so he’s keeping his distance from it?

    I dunno. Very, very foggy for me on this front, but something still doesn’t smell right over there.

  • http://www.tenfingers6strings.com TF6S

    Whoa. Petraeus back in?

    This is BIG!

  • Warbucks

    A competent but temporary place holder.

  • Warbucks

    Now let’s focus on the 2012 election cycle because its all about maintaining momentum to quickly roll us into the new world order so deep we won’t know what hit us, and another 11-million to 20-million votes from illegals (who’s really counting anyway) keeps the war on the back burner… right where it’s planned to be kept.

  • TSAlfabet

    Yes, latest news that Petraeus has been appointed in McChrystal’s place (and will step down as CENTCOM commander?).

    Does Petraeus bring in his good partner Odierno to help run things in A-stan now?

    Does Petraeus quickly revise the ROE? And even if he does, will that be enough to turn things around when there is a lack of boots on the ground?

    And what do we make of Obama’s choice here? Rush pointed out today that in 2007, when Petraeus came to D.C. for the famous report on the progress of the Iraq “Surge,” he was called a liar by Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Senator Obama when Petraeus said that progress had been made. Not the conclusion that they had pre-determined.

    Now we have the same Obama (and the rest of the ilk) praising Petraeus. “Why,” they say,”he is just the man to reproduce his success in Iraq in Afghanistan.” Huh????

    Perhaps the choice is purely political: Obama chooses Petraeus because he knows that the GOP will not question it, and, if that Newsweek article is to be believed— a BIG if– then Obama already has Petraeus’ affirmation that a handover to the ANA can be done by July 2011. If Petraeus fails, Obama can blame it on him for not telling Obama back in Sept 2009 that it was a faulty strategy. In short, Petraeus gives Obama maximum political coverage. Conservatives will not want to criticize Petraeus and it will be difficult to fault Obama who gave the reins to the very person that the GOP wanted in charge all along.

    How will this play out? Will Petraeus be given the latitude to make changes, to go on the offensive? What will Petraeus do with Karzai? What about Amb. Eikenberry?

    Buckle up, folks.

  • Warbucks

    Indeed buckle up. We are probably looking at a small nuke to seal Deepwater Horizon’s. We have an open hole spewing more oil than anyone has estimated. Worst case scenario developing in the Gulf.http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/37560013#37560013

    This is turning into the new War, even the Taliban might want to help seal this beast.

  • DesertPete45

    TSAlabet- I learned that 40 yrs ago when I studied Russian. You bet the truth and news are all lies and now that has come to our rogue govt. That is why the Russians drank vodka every night just like me drinking wine to dull the pain of our country going down the pooper with a damn interloper in the WH and everyone is afraid to criticize him because he is black (half), liberal and democrat.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Afghanistan,General McChrystal,Obama Administration and was published June 22nd, 2010 by Herschel Smith.

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