The blogosphere is still digesting what the change in Afghanistan means. A round up of what has been dug up so far - and a road-map to some of the questions the press and Congress need to ask. George Packer:
I don’t have nearly enough information to judge this move, but it leaves me a bit worried. McChrystal’s background makes him an expert in a counterinsurgency strategy that focuses on eliminating high-level targets. Whether it’s done by drones or by Special Ops commandos, it puts the greatest emphasis on killing or capturing the enemy, not on making the population secure. In Iraq, this approachwhich inevitably leads to the deaths of innocentsswelled the ranks of the insurgency and helped bring America to the brink of defeat in 2006, until Petraeus made a fundamental change in strategy. The general who implemented the strategy behind the surge, Ray Odierno, was known to be a conventional warrior like McKiernan, and a cautious man. I had dinner with Odierno (a giant of a man, with a bullet-shaped head) in his quarters the week the new Baghdad security plan began, in January 2007, and he said that the most important element would be patience. In the end, Odierno’s patience and step-by-step approach helped make the painstaking extension of security to Baghdad’s most violent neighborhoods a success.
[McChrystal is] one of the people who participated in the coverup surrounding Pat Tillman’s death, and in Iraq, he was in charge of Task Force 6-26, which tortured people at Camp Nama from 2003 to 2006. Today: I learned the administration has decided to reverse its decision to honor the ACLU’s FOIA request for photos of American torture in Iraq. I cannot help but wonder: do those photos contain evidence about illegalities that went on under McChrystal’s watch?
In regard to Lieutenant General McChrystal, his reputation is enviable. McChrystal’s reputation is as solid as that of Generals Mattis or Petraeus, but fewer people have heard of McChrystal. I know some very interesting folks in the special operations world, and McChrystal gets a five-star rating out of five stars. That comes from officers and enlisted.
[McChrystal], like everyone, knows that al-Qaida is in Pakistan. Indeed, he was already a strong advocate of expanding U.S. operations into the Pakistani FATA a few years ago. And all the indications are that his appointment signals a "wink wink, hush hush" acknowledgement that the "Afghanistan" War is about to be expanded into its de facto, as opposed to its de jure, battlefield -- and that the lion's share will take place below the visible tip of the iceberg.
Learning the correct lessons from the surge is not a thought experiment or some esoteric, academic exercise - it's crucial to understanding what really happened in Iraq in 2007 and 2008; as well as the efficacy of future counter-insurgency efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Only if we are honest about the significant limitations on COIN operations and their limited success in Iraq can we talk about their application in Afghanistan. But if we start to believe that the surge and hence counter-insurgency techniques in Iraq brought significant victories we run the very real risk of beginning to believe our own press clippings.
The danger for the administration in having relieved McKiernan will come if their Afghanistan strategy does not produce the desired results on the expedited timeline the administration has committed itself to. McKiernan is on record as having asked for at least 10,000 more troops than the administration provided, and given his military judgment that the political objectives military force has been enlisted to help achieve would take a decade. If Afghanistan does not turn, the Obama administration will have just created this war's Eric Shinseki.
Not to diminish it’s importance, but why the NYT and WaPo would think the Pat Tillman cover-up might be more of an obstacle to McChrystal’s confirmation than [torture allegations] is beyond me. Really. I feel like I am missing something here. Perhaps it’s simply because the anointed, conventional media filters on the Right and Left like this guy, and have already embraced a narrative of why he was chosen: because he “gets” the “new war” and that the “new” President is “changing course” to overcome the quagmire that “Af-Pak” became under his predecessor. That McChrystal himself might carry the ugly baggage from that predecessor’s policies just doesn’t fit the script.