General Stanley McChrystal served his country for 34 years. He began his military career as a Second Lieutenant in 1976 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and was promoted to 4-Star General in June of 2009 when he took command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.
His career was distinguished and decorated, including the Legion of Merit (with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters) and the Bronze Star. He deserved better than to be relieved of duty because of some off-color remarks made in a bar, that were reported in a dying left-wing publication like Rolling Stone Magazine.
With all that said and with all due respect to his service to our nation, he and his staff showed an incredible lack of judgment by allowing that reporter (and I use the term loosely) to be embedded with them in the first place. This lapse in judgment left President Obama no choice but to ask General McChrystal to submit his resignation.
Unlike generals like Douglas MacArthur and George Patton who had won unprecedented battles and were storied heroes of World War II, Stanley McChrystal was fighting an increasingly unpopular war. Many now question the wisdom of invading Afghanistan in the first place, while still others criticize the strategy and tactics employed in the effort. McChrystal was in fact on the losing end of a war where American soldiers and marines were dying as a direct result of his own Rules of Engagement.
The counter-insurgency tactics he successfully championed and sold to President Obama are controversial to be sure. The ROE imposed upon our military in Afghanistan were unpopular with the soldiers on the ground and many military analysts here at home.
I have had the privilege of interviewing retired Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely and Brig. Gen. James Cash, as well as former CIA operative Michael Baker about the war in Afghanistan. Although all of these men expressed great respect for General McChrystal, they expressed staunch disagreement with the wisdom of the tactics he was employing.
No one wants the American military to kill innocent Afghans. We all want to limit collateral casualties if possible. But it’s important that when we put our brave men and women in harm’s way that we give them the resources they need to accomplish their mission and protect their lives as well.
When the rules of engagement include such things as not being allowed to fire until fired upon, not being able to call in air strikes in populated areas, or pursue Taliban fighters into populated areas, we are tying the hands of our military and putting them in unnecessary and unacceptable peril.
As we witnessed in Somalia, in what became known as the “Black Hawk Down” incident in Mogadishu, when political concerns trump military considerations our soldiers die. In the Battle of Mogadishu, political concerns about having too big a footprint caused Washington, D.C. to withhold AC-130 gunship support and prevent armored vehicles from being used. The results were dead Army Rangers and Delta Operators. The images of our dead soldiers being dragged through the streets by Somali militiamen led to our withdrawal from that troubled country and was a demoralizing blow to the morale of our troops.
With all due respect to General McChrystal, who obviously believes in the COIN strategy, in my opinion (for what it’s worth) he was the wrong general, fighting the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. He should not have been given this assignment, in the first place. But that of course is not his fault.
The fact that President Obama dithered for four months before giving the general only 30,000 of the 40,000 troops he requested for his “surge” in Afghanistan must have frustrated McChrystal tremendously, and the fact that Vice-President Biden strongly opposed the COIN strategy and favored a counter-terrorist strategy instead, also was a point of contention for the general.
McChrystal and his staff were obviously blowing off steam when they made the comments that Rolling Stone printed. But they let their guard down with the enemy in their midst and he cut them down just as surely as a Taliban infiltrator would have.
Now we have to hope that McChyrstal’s replacement, General David Petraeus, tapped by President Obama, will change the Rules of Engagement to effectively grant Obama the necessary time to defeat the Taliban and get the Afghan Army and police to defend their own people and nation.
In order to win the “hearts and minds” of the Afghan peasant-farmers, Petraeus might consider allowing them to grow poppy to be purchased by western pharmaceutical companies, rather than trying to destroy the crops or forcing the Afghans to grow some other much less lucrative crop.
We need to manage our expectations and realize the futility of trying to turn Afghanistan into a Jeffersonian democracy—or even into an Iraqi-style democracy. We can only hope to make it a functioning country that is not a haven for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.