The President’s decision to conduct yet another review of our strategy in Afghanistan and to ask General Stanley McChrystal, commander of international forces in that country, to delay his request for more resources is inexplicable. Anyone who reads the unclassified version of General McChrystal’s assessment will find it an outstanding combination of deep analysis and thoughtful recommendations. At its heart, the assessment says that if the United States is going to practice counter-insurgency it must consistently implement a set of proven tactics, techniques and procedures and provide adequate resources. In essence, the report says that if you want to win in Afghanistan, here is the recipe for success.
The President faces a disastrous loss of credibility in foreign affairs if he rejects McChrystal’s recommendations and his request for more U.S. troops. Without additional forces it will be impossible to successfully expand and properly train the Afghan security forces and to stem the growing Taliban tide. Moreover, failure to be aggressive in Afghanistan will produce ripple effects throughout the region at a time when we are seeking to assure friends and foes alike that America is in the region to stay.
The President has another problem. The entire Department of Defense (DoD) is backing McChrystal. He was handpicked for his current position by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff with the charge to implement a new, hopefully winning strategy. Given the experience with General Petraeus in Iraq, the Secretary and Chairman had to know that McChrystal would ask for more men and money. Moreover, if the President were to reject McChrystal’s request for more troops and, therefore, his strategy, it would drive a stake into the heart of efforts by DoD to place irregular warfare on an equal footing with conventional warfare and to “rebalance” the U.S. military to be more effective in fighting violent extremists.
Failure to back McChrystal’s “play” would reinforce the lessons the military learned in Vietnam: first, don’t get engaged in counter-insurgencies because the political leadership inevitably loses the will to see the conflict through to victory and, second, don’t prepare for the next low-intensity conflict (see the first lesson).
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