It’s too soon to tell whether the strategy Gen. Stanley McChrystal laid out will lead to the defeat of the Taliban. But we already know that his plans have been thwarted by an even more tenacious foe: Burger King. One of McChrystal’s symbolic actions — banning fast-food establishments from U.S. bases — has now been reversed by his successor. Gen Petraeus is quoted as saying: “These quality-of-life programs remain important to soldiers for stress relief and therefore enhancing military readiness.” It is a decision that, I am sure, will be widely welcomed, by troops who look to break up the monotony of the DFAC (dining facility).
The downside is that supplying all those establishments can strain supply lines, which, as we are seeing in Pakistan, are a major vulnerability for U.S. forces. That’s something I noted back in 2006 in a column from Iraq, headlined: “Our enemies aren’t drinking lattes.” However, the real issue isn’t Green Beans or Burger King. It’s the creation in the middle of a war zone of giant forward-operating bases with tens of thousands of residents (many of them civilian contractors) who must be kept fed and supplied and whose contributions to the war effort may be marginal. The presence of a few fast food joints doesn’t have much of an impact on logistics requirements, one way or the other.
Gen. Petraeus may be allowing the fast-food joints to reopen but he is also keenly aware that the war won’t be won by locking troops away on mega-FOBs with all their amenities; he is continuing his predecessor’s policy of pushing more units to live in small outposts in Spartan conditions, where hot showers are in short supply, much less Whoppers. Thus, on what really counts, there is considerable continuity between McChrystal and Petraeus.