Commentary Magazine


Topic: commander

Yemen and the Biden Strategy

One of the most useful prisms through which to view Yemen and Somalia is that of the “Biden strategy” for the War on Terror. The strategy’s outlines are provided in this article, one of many recounting Biden’s advocacy of over-the-horizon counterterrorism during the interminable seminar on Afghanistan last year:

Biden urged the president to consider a narrow counterterrorism mission, heavy on Special Forces and Predator drone strikes, which would require far less manpower than the military was seeking. … [He] continues to argue that it may not be possible to defeat the Taliban and stabilize Afghanistan at a reasonable cost.

Administration policy in Yemen and Somalia has been an even purer example of applying the Biden strategy. Team Obama has disavowed any intention of enlarging U.S. goals or the military footprint in either nation (see here and here, for example). The U.S. is there only to hunt terrorists, suppress piracy, and supply humanitarian aid, with a little military aid thrown in on the side.

Obama has so rigorously eschewed having any greater designs on the region that his administration seems to have missed some very basic geopolitical facts; e.g., that the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden lie between Yemen and Somalia and are the main path by which terrorists — and refugees — travel between their unruly shores. Yemen and Somalia function, in many ways, as a “system”; they share problems and displaced populations; and their neighbors — like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Sudan — claim equities in their turmoil. Proposing to interact with this region solely by executing drone attacks and distributing aid, as if that will immunize the U.S. against unpleasant levels of involvement, is as much a fool’s errand as it is in Central Asia.

The U.S. is already deeply embedded in the region, with our naval task force combating piracy, our joint military headquarters in Djibouti, and our Special Forces and military training activities in Yemen. Now Obama wants to increase our counterterrorism activities in Yemen, deeming it a greater source of terrorism than Pakistan. In Somalia, meanwhile, where the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is trying to retake the south from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab terror group, the commander of U.S. Africa Command has stated — for the first time — a U.S. willingness to train Somali TFG troops directly.

The intensifying war on terrorists in Yemen is reminiscent of the U.S. posture in Southeast Asia in the early 1960s. There are, unfortunately, parallels in multiple realms. Human-rights groups are decrying the collateral damage done by U.S. strikes (like this one in December 2009). Yemen itself is rent by factional insurgencies; one of them, the Southern Movement, has ambiguous relations with al-Qaeda. The moral hazard of U.S. cooperation being exploited by the Yemeni government to go after its internal opposition cannot be discounted. Such allegations are already being made by Amnesty International and others. But the strongest parallel with Southeast Asia 50 years ago is the administration’s passion for Special Forces, military advisers, and standoff air strikes.

What happens in Yemen will not stay in Yemen: it will spill over and affect the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight terror there, but it does mean we will be unprepared for the consequences of doing so if we rely only on the Biden strategy. Perhaps the American people have let Team Obama maintain the fiction that we are executing a distant, hands-off strategy there, but regional circumstances won’t allow it much longer. Obama is inviting things to come to a head by ramping up Special Forces operations and drone attacks in Yemen, which will stretch the Biden method to the breaking point.

We are already involved in Yemen’s fate: we’ve been shooting there for years. Somalia may be next. We are backing into a problem we should be meeting head-on. Our strategy should, at the very least, recognize the limits of our ability to ignore local and regional politics when we are hunting our enemies and enforcing our policies on someone else’s territory.

One of the most useful prisms through which to view Yemen and Somalia is that of the “Biden strategy” for the War on Terror. The strategy’s outlines are provided in this article, one of many recounting Biden’s advocacy of over-the-horizon counterterrorism during the interminable seminar on Afghanistan last year:

Biden urged the president to consider a narrow counterterrorism mission, heavy on Special Forces and Predator drone strikes, which would require far less manpower than the military was seeking. … [He] continues to argue that it may not be possible to defeat the Taliban and stabilize Afghanistan at a reasonable cost.

Administration policy in Yemen and Somalia has been an even purer example of applying the Biden strategy. Team Obama has disavowed any intention of enlarging U.S. goals or the military footprint in either nation (see here and here, for example). The U.S. is there only to hunt terrorists, suppress piracy, and supply humanitarian aid, with a little military aid thrown in on the side.

Obama has so rigorously eschewed having any greater designs on the region that his administration seems to have missed some very basic geopolitical facts; e.g., that the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden lie between Yemen and Somalia and are the main path by which terrorists — and refugees — travel between their unruly shores. Yemen and Somalia function, in many ways, as a “system”; they share problems and displaced populations; and their neighbors — like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Sudan — claim equities in their turmoil. Proposing to interact with this region solely by executing drone attacks and distributing aid, as if that will immunize the U.S. against unpleasant levels of involvement, is as much a fool’s errand as it is in Central Asia.

The U.S. is already deeply embedded in the region, with our naval task force combating piracy, our joint military headquarters in Djibouti, and our Special Forces and military training activities in Yemen. Now Obama wants to increase our counterterrorism activities in Yemen, deeming it a greater source of terrorism than Pakistan. In Somalia, meanwhile, where the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) is trying to retake the south from the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab terror group, the commander of U.S. Africa Command has stated — for the first time — a U.S. willingness to train Somali TFG troops directly.

The intensifying war on terrorists in Yemen is reminiscent of the U.S. posture in Southeast Asia in the early 1960s. There are, unfortunately, parallels in multiple realms. Human-rights groups are decrying the collateral damage done by U.S. strikes (like this one in December 2009). Yemen itself is rent by factional insurgencies; one of them, the Southern Movement, has ambiguous relations with al-Qaeda. The moral hazard of U.S. cooperation being exploited by the Yemeni government to go after its internal opposition cannot be discounted. Such allegations are already being made by Amnesty International and others. But the strongest parallel with Southeast Asia 50 years ago is the administration’s passion for Special Forces, military advisers, and standoff air strikes.

What happens in Yemen will not stay in Yemen: it will spill over and affect the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight terror there, but it does mean we will be unprepared for the consequences of doing so if we rely only on the Biden strategy. Perhaps the American people have let Team Obama maintain the fiction that we are executing a distant, hands-off strategy there, but regional circumstances won’t allow it much longer. Obama is inviting things to come to a head by ramping up Special Forces operations and drone attacks in Yemen, which will stretch the Biden method to the breaking point.

We are already involved in Yemen’s fate: we’ve been shooting there for years. Somalia may be next. We are backing into a problem we should be meeting head-on. Our strategy should, at the very least, recognize the limits of our ability to ignore local and regional politics when we are hunting our enemies and enforcing our policies on someone else’s territory.

Read Less

Petraeus on Afghanistan

This past weekend, General David Petraeus, the commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, granted interviews to the Washington Post, New York Times, and Meet the Press [here and here].

Acknowledging that the mission is at a stage in which “what you have to do is to start turning inputs into outputs,” Petraeus said that the new U.S. war strategy is “fundamentally sound.” He sees incipient signs of progress in parts of the south, in new initiatives to create community defense forces, and in nascent steps to reintegrate low-level insurgents who want to stop fighting. According to the Post:

Petraeus contends that the counterinsurgency strategy is showing momentum in Helmand province, where about 20,000 U.S. Marines and 10,000 British troops have sought to create inkblots of security in six key districts. Some areas, such as Marja, a former Taliban stronghold, have proved to be tougher to pacify … but other places, such as the districts of Nawa and Garmsir, are becoming more stable and may feature prominently in his year-end presentation to the White House.

He also said he is encouraged by developments in Arghandab district on Kandahar’s northern fringe, where two U.S. Army battalions have been engaged in an arduous mission to clear insurgents from pomegranate orchards and vineyards seeded with makeshift but lethal anti-personnel mines.

Petraeus points out that what we face is not a monolithic Taliban enemy; he describes it more like a crime syndicate. In the southern part of the country we face the Afghan Taliban; in the eastern part, the Haqqani network linked to the Taliban but not subservient to it. There are small elements of al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and some Pakistani Taliban as well.

Petraeus, who appears intent on taking a harder line against corruption in the Karzai government than we’ve seen in the past, says his most significant accomplishment since arriving in Kabul has been to get President Karzai to endorse the creation of armed neighborhood-watch groups. He also argues against any precipitous withdrawal of forces in July 2011. When asked by NBC’s David Gregory how stifling the deadline is, Petraeus said this:

I don’t find it that stifling. I’m not bowed over by, you know, the knowledge that July 2011 is out there. In fact, the president has been very clear, Vice President Biden’s been very clear as well, more recently, that this is a date when a process begins that is conditions based. And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and to security forces and, and in various governmental institutions, and that enables a responsible drawdown of our forces. … I think the president’s been quite clear in explaining that it’s a process, not an event, and that it’s conditions based. … I think that we will have an enduring commitment here in some fashion, the character of which may change over time as our Afghan partners can do more and we’re able to do less in certain areas, certainly.

Articulating traditional counterinsurgency doctrine, Petraeus went on to say, “At the end of the day, it’s not about [the Afghan people’s] embrace of us, it’s not about us winning hearts and minds. It’s about the Afghan government winning hearts and minds.” And when asked if the outcome is like Iraq, whether that constitutes achieving the mission, Petraeus said this:

Well, the outcome in Iraq is still to be written, but if you could reduce the level of violence by some 90 to 95 percent, as was the case in Iraq, to below a threshold which allows commerce and business and outside investment to take place, where there is an election that’s certainly at least elected representatives, and now you have to see if they can come together and form a government that is still representative of and responsive to the people, as was the previous one. If that can all be achieved there, that would be a reasonable solution here as well.

“It’s a gradual effort,” Petraeus told the Post. “It’s a deliberate effort. There’s no hill to take and flag to plant and proclamations of victory. Rather, it’s just hard work.”

It is indeed. But America is fortunate to have one of the greatest military commanders in its history now in the lead. If we give him the tools and the time, he and the American military can finish the job.

This past weekend, General David Petraeus, the commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, granted interviews to the Washington Post, New York Times, and Meet the Press [here and here].

Acknowledging that the mission is at a stage in which “what you have to do is to start turning inputs into outputs,” Petraeus said that the new U.S. war strategy is “fundamentally sound.” He sees incipient signs of progress in parts of the south, in new initiatives to create community defense forces, and in nascent steps to reintegrate low-level insurgents who want to stop fighting. According to the Post:

Petraeus contends that the counterinsurgency strategy is showing momentum in Helmand province, where about 20,000 U.S. Marines and 10,000 British troops have sought to create inkblots of security in six key districts. Some areas, such as Marja, a former Taliban stronghold, have proved to be tougher to pacify … but other places, such as the districts of Nawa and Garmsir, are becoming more stable and may feature prominently in his year-end presentation to the White House.

He also said he is encouraged by developments in Arghandab district on Kandahar’s northern fringe, where two U.S. Army battalions have been engaged in an arduous mission to clear insurgents from pomegranate orchards and vineyards seeded with makeshift but lethal anti-personnel mines.

Petraeus points out that what we face is not a monolithic Taliban enemy; he describes it more like a crime syndicate. In the southern part of the country we face the Afghan Taliban; in the eastern part, the Haqqani network linked to the Taliban but not subservient to it. There are small elements of al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and some Pakistani Taliban as well.

Petraeus, who appears intent on taking a harder line against corruption in the Karzai government than we’ve seen in the past, says his most significant accomplishment since arriving in Kabul has been to get President Karzai to endorse the creation of armed neighborhood-watch groups. He also argues against any precipitous withdrawal of forces in July 2011. When asked by NBC’s David Gregory how stifling the deadline is, Petraeus said this:

I don’t find it that stifling. I’m not bowed over by, you know, the knowledge that July 2011 is out there. In fact, the president has been very clear, Vice President Biden’s been very clear as well, more recently, that this is a date when a process begins that is conditions based. And as the conditions permit, we transition tasks to our Afghan counterparts and to security forces and, and in various governmental institutions, and that enables a responsible drawdown of our forces. … I think the president’s been quite clear in explaining that it’s a process, not an event, and that it’s conditions based. … I think that we will have an enduring commitment here in some fashion, the character of which may change over time as our Afghan partners can do more and we’re able to do less in certain areas, certainly.

Articulating traditional counterinsurgency doctrine, Petraeus went on to say, “At the end of the day, it’s not about [the Afghan people’s] embrace of us, it’s not about us winning hearts and minds. It’s about the Afghan government winning hearts and minds.” And when asked if the outcome is like Iraq, whether that constitutes achieving the mission, Petraeus said this:

Well, the outcome in Iraq is still to be written, but if you could reduce the level of violence by some 90 to 95 percent, as was the case in Iraq, to below a threshold which allows commerce and business and outside investment to take place, where there is an election that’s certainly at least elected representatives, and now you have to see if they can come together and form a government that is still representative of and responsive to the people, as was the previous one. If that can all be achieved there, that would be a reasonable solution here as well.

“It’s a gradual effort,” Petraeus told the Post. “It’s a deliberate effort. There’s no hill to take and flag to plant and proclamations of victory. Rather, it’s just hard work.”

It is indeed. But America is fortunate to have one of the greatest military commanders in its history now in the lead. If we give him the tools and the time, he and the American military can finish the job.

Read Less

Hezbollah Can’t Pin Hariri Murder on Israel

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is now officially blaming Israel for assassinating former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in downtown Beirut on Valentine’s Day in 2005. I doubt he will convince many people.

I’ve been working in Lebanon on and off for years, and I’ve never once met a single person who thought Israel murdered Hariri. Not even the Hezbollah officials I spoke to before they blacklisted me thought so. Once in a while I met a Hezbollah supporter who said he didn’t know who killed Hariri and silently left open the possibility that Israel might have done it, but that’s the furthest even any of them were willing to go.

Hariri was one of the least anti-Israel Arab leaders on earth. His vision for Lebanon was one of peace and prosperity, not terrorism and war. Jerusalem had no reason at all to want him out of the picture. The Syrian- and Iranian-led Resistance Bloc, on the other hand, needed him out of the way, dead, or at least suppressed.

Almost everyone in Lebanon assumed from the very beginning that the Assad regime in Damascus ordered the hit, which is why Syria’s military occupation was terminated almost at once by a tremendous wave of multi-sectarian wrath. Most people, including me, didn’t entertain the idea for long that Hezbollah might be responsible, not because Hezbollah wouldn’t or couldn’t have done it, but because Syria had the greater of motives.

Speculation is now mounting, however, that the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon is about to name Mustafa Badr al-Din, a senior Hezbollah commander, as the chief suspect. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s actually true, but it will be explosive news if it is. It could easily start another round of sectarian bloodletting, and at the least it will bring Lebanon closer to the boiling point than it already is.

Nasrallah desperately needs to minimize the potential damage as much as he can in advance. Blaming the Jews often works in this part of the world, but this time it might not. His timing could not be worse. It wouldn’t have worked had he tried it five years ago, and that he’s trying it now only makes him look guilty.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is now officially blaming Israel for assassinating former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in downtown Beirut on Valentine’s Day in 2005. I doubt he will convince many people.

I’ve been working in Lebanon on and off for years, and I’ve never once met a single person who thought Israel murdered Hariri. Not even the Hezbollah officials I spoke to before they blacklisted me thought so. Once in a while I met a Hezbollah supporter who said he didn’t know who killed Hariri and silently left open the possibility that Israel might have done it, but that’s the furthest even any of them were willing to go.

Hariri was one of the least anti-Israel Arab leaders on earth. His vision for Lebanon was one of peace and prosperity, not terrorism and war. Jerusalem had no reason at all to want him out of the picture. The Syrian- and Iranian-led Resistance Bloc, on the other hand, needed him out of the way, dead, or at least suppressed.

Almost everyone in Lebanon assumed from the very beginning that the Assad regime in Damascus ordered the hit, which is why Syria’s military occupation was terminated almost at once by a tremendous wave of multi-sectarian wrath. Most people, including me, didn’t entertain the idea for long that Hezbollah might be responsible, not because Hezbollah wouldn’t or couldn’t have done it, but because Syria had the greater of motives.

Speculation is now mounting, however, that the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon is about to name Mustafa Badr al-Din, a senior Hezbollah commander, as the chief suspect. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s actually true, but it will be explosive news if it is. It could easily start another round of sectarian bloodletting, and at the least it will bring Lebanon closer to the boiling point than it already is.

Nasrallah desperately needs to minimize the potential damage as much as he can in advance. Blaming the Jews often works in this part of the world, but this time it might not. His timing could not be worse. It wouldn’t have worked had he tried it five years ago, and that he’s trying it now only makes him look guilty.

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RE: JFCOM to Be Shut Down?

Max raises important issues with Secretary Gates’s new proposal to shutter Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) in southeastern Virginia. I’m not convinced that Gates thinks JFCOM’s job can be done without JFCOM. I suspect he may think it’s not important enough to justify the organization and expenses of a major combatant command.

Gates’s budgetary de-emphasis on force transformation and future weapon systems has stood in contrast to the Rumsfeld-era environment in which JFCOM flourished. Gates was also the secretary of defense in the summer of 2008, when General Mattis, then the new JFCOM commander, took the unusual but necessary step — all but invisible outside military circles — of repudiating the course on which JFCOM had set the once-pervasive, cutting-edge warfare concept of “effects-based operations” (EBO). EBO had become tied, in the minds of many, to our operational failures in Iraq. A widely read U.S. Army War College paper further implicated EBO in the IDF’s failures in the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah. EBO has been a drag on the image of what JFCOM was created to do: look toward the future of joint warfare.

Rumsfeld went too far in the direction of transformation, at the expense of current operations. But Gates may well be going too far in the opposite direction. With Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia all arming up, and Russia and China accelerating their weapons-development programs, now is not a good time to preserve our defense-planning assumptions in amber. I’m not as concerned about the disestablishment of JFCOM as I am about the potential for ignoring the joint-warfighting implications of emerging trends abroad. JFCOM’s utility in that regard has been unique: unlike the Joint Staff in Washington, its principal orientation is theory, application, and the lessons from combat — not on the Defense Department budget or the programming cycle.

One feature of JFCOM is likely to slow down efforts to eliminate it. I don’t see any acknowledgment in the Gates proposal that JFCOM plays a key role with the NATO command in Norfolk, Allied Command Transformation (ACT). In the NATO reorganization of 2002, ACT was assigned a mission of training and doctrine development parallel to that of JFCOM. In fact, until 2009, when a French officer assumed command of ACT, the JFCOM commander headed it as well.

NATO’s latest round of strategic thinking produced a report, issued in May 2010, which highlights ACT’s role and calls for “a bolder mandate, greater authorities [sic], and more resources” for the command, identifying it as the key to an overdue transformation of NATO force organization and doctrine. Disestablishing JFCOM, the U.S. counterpart to ACT — in fact, the model on which ACT was designed — would put us noticeably out of step with the direction currently proposed for the NATO alliance. That’s worth a pause for reflection. There are ways to cut contractor positions and slice fat without pulling the plug on a core nexus with our NATO allies.

Max raises important issues with Secretary Gates’s new proposal to shutter Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) in southeastern Virginia. I’m not convinced that Gates thinks JFCOM’s job can be done without JFCOM. I suspect he may think it’s not important enough to justify the organization and expenses of a major combatant command.

Gates’s budgetary de-emphasis on force transformation and future weapon systems has stood in contrast to the Rumsfeld-era environment in which JFCOM flourished. Gates was also the secretary of defense in the summer of 2008, when General Mattis, then the new JFCOM commander, took the unusual but necessary step — all but invisible outside military circles — of repudiating the course on which JFCOM had set the once-pervasive, cutting-edge warfare concept of “effects-based operations” (EBO). EBO had become tied, in the minds of many, to our operational failures in Iraq. A widely read U.S. Army War College paper further implicated EBO in the IDF’s failures in the 2006 conflict with Hezbollah. EBO has been a drag on the image of what JFCOM was created to do: look toward the future of joint warfare.

Rumsfeld went too far in the direction of transformation, at the expense of current operations. But Gates may well be going too far in the opposite direction. With Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia all arming up, and Russia and China accelerating their weapons-development programs, now is not a good time to preserve our defense-planning assumptions in amber. I’m not as concerned about the disestablishment of JFCOM as I am about the potential for ignoring the joint-warfighting implications of emerging trends abroad. JFCOM’s utility in that regard has been unique: unlike the Joint Staff in Washington, its principal orientation is theory, application, and the lessons from combat — not on the Defense Department budget or the programming cycle.

One feature of JFCOM is likely to slow down efforts to eliminate it. I don’t see any acknowledgment in the Gates proposal that JFCOM plays a key role with the NATO command in Norfolk, Allied Command Transformation (ACT). In the NATO reorganization of 2002, ACT was assigned a mission of training and doctrine development parallel to that of JFCOM. In fact, until 2009, when a French officer assumed command of ACT, the JFCOM commander headed it as well.

NATO’s latest round of strategic thinking produced a report, issued in May 2010, which highlights ACT’s role and calls for “a bolder mandate, greater authorities [sic], and more resources” for the command, identifying it as the key to an overdue transformation of NATO force organization and doctrine. Disestablishing JFCOM, the U.S. counterpart to ACT — in fact, the model on which ACT was designed — would put us noticeably out of step with the direction currently proposed for the NATO alliance. That’s worth a pause for reflection. There are ways to cut contractor positions and slice fat without pulling the plug on a core nexus with our NATO allies.

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No Victory Laps in Iraq — Yet

President Obama delivers a speech today marking the end of combat operations in Iraq as the number of U.S. troops falls to 50,000 by the end of the month. Politico describes this as “the first steps of a U.S. victory lap on the war.” Meanwhile, Iraq continues to suffer from chronic electricity shortages, terrorists have stepped up their attacks this summer, and, most worrying of all, Iraqi politicos agree there is no chance of a government being formed before the fall. These worrisome trends on the ground shouldn’t obscure the amazing progress that has been made since 2007, but they should warn us against the kind of complacency the administration has fallen prey to in the past.

Having 50,000 troops remain in Iraq for at least another year still gives us considerable leverage to influence events in a more positive direction — if we have smart representatives capable of doing that and if they have the support they need in Washington. General Ray Odierno, the senior military commander (who, unfortunately, is about to depart), has done a tremendous job, but he has been let down by his diplomatic partner, Ambassador Chris Hill, who had never served in the Arab world before being appointed last year and has taken a curiously hands-off attitude toward the Iraqi political process.

The good news is that Hill is on the way out and a more experienced ambassador, Jim Jeffrey, who has served in Iraq before, is due to arrive soon. He is smart enough to bring back a few key staff members from the “Dream Team” that helped General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker manage the surge:

Brett McGurk, an Iraq adviser to then-President George W. Bush who was among the key negotiators of a 2008 bilateral agreement, recently arrived in Baghdad. Sadi Othman, who was Gen. David H. Petraeus’s main interlocutor with Iraqi politicians during the surge, has been asked to return to work for the incoming U.S. commander, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III. Ali Khedery, who was an adviser to then-U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, will work temporarily for the next ambassador, James F. Jeffrey.

General Austin, the new military commander, doesn’t have the same level of experience in Iraq as Odierno, but overall this is a big upgrade of the American presence. Still, it’s not enough to have better representatives on the ground; success in Iraq will also require high-level engagement of the sort that the White House has conducted only intermittently. President Obama needs to pay closer attention and not simply hand Iraq off to Vice President Biden. It is still possible for our hard-won achievements in Iraq to be dissipated if the president is more interested in taking victory laps than in pushing the country forward.

President Obama delivers a speech today marking the end of combat operations in Iraq as the number of U.S. troops falls to 50,000 by the end of the month. Politico describes this as “the first steps of a U.S. victory lap on the war.” Meanwhile, Iraq continues to suffer from chronic electricity shortages, terrorists have stepped up their attacks this summer, and, most worrying of all, Iraqi politicos agree there is no chance of a government being formed before the fall. These worrisome trends on the ground shouldn’t obscure the amazing progress that has been made since 2007, but they should warn us against the kind of complacency the administration has fallen prey to in the past.

Having 50,000 troops remain in Iraq for at least another year still gives us considerable leverage to influence events in a more positive direction — if we have smart representatives capable of doing that and if they have the support they need in Washington. General Ray Odierno, the senior military commander (who, unfortunately, is about to depart), has done a tremendous job, but he has been let down by his diplomatic partner, Ambassador Chris Hill, who had never served in the Arab world before being appointed last year and has taken a curiously hands-off attitude toward the Iraqi political process.

The good news is that Hill is on the way out and a more experienced ambassador, Jim Jeffrey, who has served in Iraq before, is due to arrive soon. He is smart enough to bring back a few key staff members from the “Dream Team” that helped General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker manage the surge:

Brett McGurk, an Iraq adviser to then-President George W. Bush who was among the key negotiators of a 2008 bilateral agreement, recently arrived in Baghdad. Sadi Othman, who was Gen. David H. Petraeus’s main interlocutor with Iraqi politicians during the surge, has been asked to return to work for the incoming U.S. commander, Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III. Ali Khedery, who was an adviser to then-U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, will work temporarily for the next ambassador, James F. Jeffrey.

General Austin, the new military commander, doesn’t have the same level of experience in Iraq as Odierno, but overall this is a big upgrade of the American presence. Still, it’s not enough to have better representatives on the ground; success in Iraq will also require high-level engagement of the sort that the White House has conducted only intermittently. President Obama needs to pay closer attention and not simply hand Iraq off to Vice President Biden. It is still possible for our hard-won achievements in Iraq to be dissipated if the president is more interested in taking victory laps than in pushing the country forward.

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Don’t Believe Everything You Read in the Times

It is always dismaying to discover how gullible readers of the New York Times can be. I was interviewed on Sunday night by the BBC regarding a “change of strategy” in Afghanistan. What change is that? Why the change from counterinsurgency to targeted killings. I expressed some incredulity about this supposed shift. Having just returned from Afghanistan, I had heard of no such change of focus. What evidence is there that it’s happening? None that I can find beyond this page-one Times article by Helene Cooper and Mark Landler whose headline claims: “Targeted Killing Is New U.S. Focus in Afghanistan.”

The article claims that the “counterinsurgency strategy has shown little success” — hardly surprising since it has only recently begun to be implemented. “Instead,” the article goes on to assert, “what has turned out to work well is an approach American officials have talked much less about: counterterrorism, military-speak for the targeted killings of insurgents from Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Faced with that reality, and the pressure of a self-imposed deadline to begin withdrawing troops by July 2011, the Obama administration is starting to count more heavily on the strategy of hunting down insurgents. The shift could change the nature of the war and potentially, in the view of some officials, hasten a political settlement with the Taliban. ”

I have no idea what Cooper and Landler mean when they write that “the Obama administration is starting to count more heavily on the strategy of hunting down insurgents.” In fact, Vice President Biden had urged a narrow counterterrorism focus for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan — and he lost the internal administration debate. You don’t need 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan simply to hunt down terrorist leaders. They are there to carry out a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy that General David Petraeus is now implementing.

As part of that strategy, there has been a shift of more Special Operations forces to Afghanistan and, as a result, more targeted hits on top Taliban leaders. But Petraeus realizes (as did his predecessor Stan McChrystal, a veteran Special Operations commander) what the Times concedes: “Based on the American military experience in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, it is not clear that killing enemy fighters is sufficient by itself to cripple an insurgency.” In fact, it is clear that targeted killings by themselves will not cripple a determined insurgency. That is precisely why it is extremely unlikely that Petraeus will do what the Times reporters claim — shift to a focused counterterrorism strategy.

Informed consumers of the news — especially those in other news organizations who too often take their cues from the Times — should take such supposed “scoops” with a big grain of salt.

It is always dismaying to discover how gullible readers of the New York Times can be. I was interviewed on Sunday night by the BBC regarding a “change of strategy” in Afghanistan. What change is that? Why the change from counterinsurgency to targeted killings. I expressed some incredulity about this supposed shift. Having just returned from Afghanistan, I had heard of no such change of focus. What evidence is there that it’s happening? None that I can find beyond this page-one Times article by Helene Cooper and Mark Landler whose headline claims: “Targeted Killing Is New U.S. Focus in Afghanistan.”

The article claims that the “counterinsurgency strategy has shown little success” — hardly surprising since it has only recently begun to be implemented. “Instead,” the article goes on to assert, “what has turned out to work well is an approach American officials have talked much less about: counterterrorism, military-speak for the targeted killings of insurgents from Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Faced with that reality, and the pressure of a self-imposed deadline to begin withdrawing troops by July 2011, the Obama administration is starting to count more heavily on the strategy of hunting down insurgents. The shift could change the nature of the war and potentially, in the view of some officials, hasten a political settlement with the Taliban. ”

I have no idea what Cooper and Landler mean when they write that “the Obama administration is starting to count more heavily on the strategy of hunting down insurgents.” In fact, Vice President Biden had urged a narrow counterterrorism focus for U.S. efforts in Afghanistan — and he lost the internal administration debate. You don’t need 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan simply to hunt down terrorist leaders. They are there to carry out a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy that General David Petraeus is now implementing.

As part of that strategy, there has been a shift of more Special Operations forces to Afghanistan and, as a result, more targeted hits on top Taliban leaders. But Petraeus realizes (as did his predecessor Stan McChrystal, a veteran Special Operations commander) what the Times concedes: “Based on the American military experience in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, it is not clear that killing enemy fighters is sufficient by itself to cripple an insurgency.” In fact, it is clear that targeted killings by themselves will not cripple a determined insurgency. That is precisely why it is extremely unlikely that Petraeus will do what the Times reporters claim — shift to a focused counterterrorism strategy.

Informed consumers of the news — especially those in other news organizations who too often take their cues from the Times — should take such supposed “scoops” with a big grain of salt.

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Jim Mattis: New Head of Central Command

The New York Times has a nice article on the general chosen to head Central Command — Jim Mattis. I’ve known Mattis since the summer of 2003, when I spent some time in Iraq while he was commander of the 1st Marine Division. I was struck by how quickly and seamlessly he made the transition from conventional operations to what the military calls “stability operations” in the Shiite heartland of central Iraq. His methods were similar to those being employed in northern Iraq by another divisional commander — David Petraeus, of the 101st Airborne Division. (For my report on their efforts see this article.)

I’ve often wondered since then: whatever happened to those guys? Just kidding.

Petraeus’s stratospheric and well deserved rise to become the most celebrated American general since Eisenhower has already become legend. Mattis has not gotten the same degree of attention, but he completed another tour of duty in Iraq, helped co-author the Army/Marine Field Manual on Counterinsurgency with Petraeus, and went on to head the U.S. Joint Forces Command.

His many admirers, of whom I am one, were puzzled by his failure to be appointed to one of the truly plum jobs, such as that of Marine Commandant or Central Command chief. This was generally attributed to his salty tongue; he got into hot water in 2005 for saying at a public forum: “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway, so it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.” This was seen as a cardinal violation of the rules of political correctness, which hold that soldiers are only supposed to talk about the anguish, trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder they experience; they are never supposed to comment on the thrill of the kill.

Defense Secretary Bob Gates and President Obama deserve considerable credit for not letting this minor fracas stop them from appointing Mattis as Petraeus’s successor at Centcom. What they undoubtedly know, and what the rest of the world will discover, is that Mattis is not only a “warrior’s warrior” (as he is described in the Times) but also a “diplomat’s diplomat.” In his JFCOM role, he was for a while responsible for NATO force transformation, which required him to press NATO officials to do more to upgrade their armed forces. He was not always successful (who would be?), but he was by all accounts a compelling and persuasive diplomat. He has become known for sending everyone he meets a personal “thank you” note — not a standard-issue form but rather a letter that reflects on the substance of the conversation.

I got one myself after hosting Mattis for an off-the-record roundtable at the Council on Foreign Relations. Given the ground rules, I can’t discuss what he said, but I can mention the impression he made on some jaded Council members in New York. He wowed them by combining the erudition of a Harvard professor with a combat grunt’s gift for aphorism. He showed why he is revered not only as a combat leader but also as an intellectual whose personal library of military works runs to thousands of volumes. It is hard to imagine a better choice to head Central Command. I trust he will enjoy smooth sailing in the Senate confirmation process.

The New York Times has a nice article on the general chosen to head Central Command — Jim Mattis. I’ve known Mattis since the summer of 2003, when I spent some time in Iraq while he was commander of the 1st Marine Division. I was struck by how quickly and seamlessly he made the transition from conventional operations to what the military calls “stability operations” in the Shiite heartland of central Iraq. His methods were similar to those being employed in northern Iraq by another divisional commander — David Petraeus, of the 101st Airborne Division. (For my report on their efforts see this article.)

I’ve often wondered since then: whatever happened to those guys? Just kidding.

Petraeus’s stratospheric and well deserved rise to become the most celebrated American general since Eisenhower has already become legend. Mattis has not gotten the same degree of attention, but he completed another tour of duty in Iraq, helped co-author the Army/Marine Field Manual on Counterinsurgency with Petraeus, and went on to head the U.S. Joint Forces Command.

His many admirers, of whom I am one, were puzzled by his failure to be appointed to one of the truly plum jobs, such as that of Marine Commandant or Central Command chief. This was generally attributed to his salty tongue; he got into hot water in 2005 for saying at a public forum: “You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap around women for five years because they didn’t wear a veil. You know guys like that ain’t got no manhood left anyway, so it’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them.” This was seen as a cardinal violation of the rules of political correctness, which hold that soldiers are only supposed to talk about the anguish, trauma, and post-traumatic stress disorder they experience; they are never supposed to comment on the thrill of the kill.

Defense Secretary Bob Gates and President Obama deserve considerable credit for not letting this minor fracas stop them from appointing Mattis as Petraeus’s successor at Centcom. What they undoubtedly know, and what the rest of the world will discover, is that Mattis is not only a “warrior’s warrior” (as he is described in the Times) but also a “diplomat’s diplomat.” In his JFCOM role, he was for a while responsible for NATO force transformation, which required him to press NATO officials to do more to upgrade their armed forces. He was not always successful (who would be?), but he was by all accounts a compelling and persuasive diplomat. He has become known for sending everyone he meets a personal “thank you” note — not a standard-issue form but rather a letter that reflects on the substance of the conversation.

I got one myself after hosting Mattis for an off-the-record roundtable at the Council on Foreign Relations. Given the ground rules, I can’t discuss what he said, but I can mention the impression he made on some jaded Council members in New York. He wowed them by combining the erudition of a Harvard professor with a combat grunt’s gift for aphorism. He showed why he is revered not only as a combat leader but also as an intellectual whose personal library of military works runs to thousands of volumes. It is hard to imagine a better choice to head Central Command. I trust he will enjoy smooth sailing in the Senate confirmation process.

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Haaretz Disses J Street

Sounds like a joke: J Street has become so transparently partisan and so sycophantic when it comes to Obama’s Middle East policy that even the left-leaning Haaretz runs a scathing review of the leftist group. But it’s no joke:

J Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby, ran its first television commercial last week in the United States. Watching the ad online (it can be viewed via a link on my own organization’s website, www.rethinkme.org) confirmed my worst suspicions about this new organization, which likes to portray itself as the “real voice” of the mainstream American Jewish community. …

Photos of Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus also appear on-screen, accompanied by the words, “Say ‘yes’ to American leadership. Join the community of ‘yes.’” So “American leadership” in the Middle East is personified by the president, the secretary of state and the new commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. …

This commercial is a classic Democratic campaign ad, pitting the evil Republicans (“the chorus of ‘no’”) against the good guys, the Democrats (“the community of ‘yes’”). For the purposes of the ad, the general has been promoted to the rank of honorary Democrat, despite his reputed Republican voter registration.

As the columnist Michael Lame (founder of a nonpartisan group, Re-Think The Middle East) notes, there are lots of other leftist groups, but J Street is in a class by itself:

J Street is specifically an Obama support group, playing the part of a cheering section for the president to such an extent that the organization could be renamed “Jews for Obama.” It has consistently supported his approach to the Middle East even when most commentators who support a two-state solution have criticized his administration’s tactics and timing. Through the last year and a half of White House bumbling and fumbling over the settlement freeze, J Street never once criticized Obama, Mitchell, Clinton or the entire strategy of talking tough to Israel, coupled with toothless threats and inept performance.

It is not merely that, unlike AIPAC, “J Street will not defend Israel unconditionally” or even that “J Street will defend Obama unconditionally.” It is that J Street continually criticizes Israel on the same grounds as Israel’s international enemies do and often parrots their rhetoric, specifically the assertion that Israel is not equipped or entitled as other democratic states to manage and — if need be — investigate its own national-security operations. Indeed, J Street takes the position that it, and not the elected government of Israel, knows best what is “good” for Israel on everything — from settlements to the flotilla incident.

It is ironic that the left went bonkers when ECI appeared on the scene, accusing the pro-Israel group of “politicizing” Israel policy. That’s rich, given what J Street does:

The main problem here is that J Street tries to turn peace in the Middle East into a proprietary issue of the Democrats, while it vilifies the Republicans as the enemies of peace. … So what’s wrong with J Street? It mixes up its views on the issues with domestic party politics.

Precisely so.

Sounds like a joke: J Street has become so transparently partisan and so sycophantic when it comes to Obama’s Middle East policy that even the left-leaning Haaretz runs a scathing review of the leftist group. But it’s no joke:

J Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby, ran its first television commercial last week in the United States. Watching the ad online (it can be viewed via a link on my own organization’s website, www.rethinkme.org) confirmed my worst suspicions about this new organization, which likes to portray itself as the “real voice” of the mainstream American Jewish community. …

Photos of Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus also appear on-screen, accompanied by the words, “Say ‘yes’ to American leadership. Join the community of ‘yes.’” So “American leadership” in the Middle East is personified by the president, the secretary of state and the new commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. …

This commercial is a classic Democratic campaign ad, pitting the evil Republicans (“the chorus of ‘no’”) against the good guys, the Democrats (“the community of ‘yes’”). For the purposes of the ad, the general has been promoted to the rank of honorary Democrat, despite his reputed Republican voter registration.

As the columnist Michael Lame (founder of a nonpartisan group, Re-Think The Middle East) notes, there are lots of other leftist groups, but J Street is in a class by itself:

J Street is specifically an Obama support group, playing the part of a cheering section for the president to such an extent that the organization could be renamed “Jews for Obama.” It has consistently supported his approach to the Middle East even when most commentators who support a two-state solution have criticized his administration’s tactics and timing. Through the last year and a half of White House bumbling and fumbling over the settlement freeze, J Street never once criticized Obama, Mitchell, Clinton or the entire strategy of talking tough to Israel, coupled with toothless threats and inept performance.

It is not merely that, unlike AIPAC, “J Street will not defend Israel unconditionally” or even that “J Street will defend Obama unconditionally.” It is that J Street continually criticizes Israel on the same grounds as Israel’s international enemies do and often parrots their rhetoric, specifically the assertion that Israel is not equipped or entitled as other democratic states to manage and — if need be — investigate its own national-security operations. Indeed, J Street takes the position that it, and not the elected government of Israel, knows best what is “good” for Israel on everything — from settlements to the flotilla incident.

It is ironic that the left went bonkers when ECI appeared on the scene, accusing the pro-Israel group of “politicizing” Israel policy. That’s rich, given what J Street does:

The main problem here is that J Street tries to turn peace in the Middle East into a proprietary issue of the Democrats, while it vilifies the Republicans as the enemies of peace. … So what’s wrong with J Street? It mixes up its views on the issues with domestic party politics.

Precisely so.

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The Trouble with International Forces

The latest argument by Palestinian flacks like Haaretz reporter Akiva Eldar is that with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas having agreed to host an international force such as “UNIFIL or NATO” in the West Bank following an Israeli withdrawal, Israel has no more security worries and therefore no excuse for any delays in reaching an agreement on such a withdrawal.

But anyone who actually believes that Israel can or should rely on “an international force to defend Israel’s well-being” should consider the latest news on UNIFIL’s mission in south Lebanon.

As defined by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, this mission is, inter alia, to “assist the Lebanese armed forces” in making the south of the Litani River “an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL.”

But a few weeks ago, something dreadful happened: a French contingent of UNIFIL actually tried to carry out this mission. It began using sniffer dogs to detect illegal weapons and explosives and insisted on searching homes and yards where it had reason to believe Hezbollah was stockpiling such arms.

The immediate result was a series of clashes apparently either staged or encouraged by Hezbollah between Lebanese villagers and UNIFIL troops. In the most serious incident, villagers hurled stones at the peacekeepers, seized their weapons, and vandalized their vehicle.

The second result was that, at the end of last week, UNIFIL agreed to stop using sniffer dogs and refrain from entering homes and yards – or, in other words, to stop carrying out its mission of detecting illegal Hezbollah weapons. Its commander, Maj. Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas, followed that up with a fawning apology for the “mistakes,” published in the Lebanese press as an open letter to the Lebanese people.

In fairness, you can’t really blame UNIFIL. Soldiers are expected to risk their lives to defend their own countries and their own people, but it’s quite understandable that they are less enthusiastic about risking their lives to defend someone else’s country and someone else’s people unless their own country sees a vital national interest in so doing (as the U.S. does in Afghanistan). And the risks are real: in 2007, for instance, six Spanish UNIFIL members whom Israel considered particularly effective were killed by a roadside bomb in what appeared to be a clear message from Hezbollah.

But that understandable reluctance to die for someone else’s country has made peacekeepers consistently ineffective at stopping active fighting. Examples abound, from Dutch peacekeepers’ failure to prevent the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 to the UN peacekeepers’ obedient withdrawal from Sinai in 1967 when Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted a path cleared for his troops to invade Israel.

In other words, an international force would be useless at preventing anti-Israel terror if Palestinians wanted to perpetrate such attacks — and completely unnecessary if they did not.

Unfortunately, experience has taught most Israelis to consider the former possibility more likely. And until that changes, they will view any substitute for their own army in the West Bank as a nonstarter.

The latest argument by Palestinian flacks like Haaretz reporter Akiva Eldar is that with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas having agreed to host an international force such as “UNIFIL or NATO” in the West Bank following an Israeli withdrawal, Israel has no more security worries and therefore no excuse for any delays in reaching an agreement on such a withdrawal.

But anyone who actually believes that Israel can or should rely on “an international force to defend Israel’s well-being” should consider the latest news on UNIFIL’s mission in south Lebanon.

As defined by UN Security Council Resolution 1701, this mission is, inter alia, to “assist the Lebanese armed forces” in making the south of the Litani River “an area free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and of UNIFIL.”

But a few weeks ago, something dreadful happened: a French contingent of UNIFIL actually tried to carry out this mission. It began using sniffer dogs to detect illegal weapons and explosives and insisted on searching homes and yards where it had reason to believe Hezbollah was stockpiling such arms.

The immediate result was a series of clashes apparently either staged or encouraged by Hezbollah between Lebanese villagers and UNIFIL troops. In the most serious incident, villagers hurled stones at the peacekeepers, seized their weapons, and vandalized their vehicle.

The second result was that, at the end of last week, UNIFIL agreed to stop using sniffer dogs and refrain from entering homes and yards – or, in other words, to stop carrying out its mission of detecting illegal Hezbollah weapons. Its commander, Maj. Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas, followed that up with a fawning apology for the “mistakes,” published in the Lebanese press as an open letter to the Lebanese people.

In fairness, you can’t really blame UNIFIL. Soldiers are expected to risk their lives to defend their own countries and their own people, but it’s quite understandable that they are less enthusiastic about risking their lives to defend someone else’s country and someone else’s people unless their own country sees a vital national interest in so doing (as the U.S. does in Afghanistan). And the risks are real: in 2007, for instance, six Spanish UNIFIL members whom Israel considered particularly effective were killed by a roadside bomb in what appeared to be a clear message from Hezbollah.

But that understandable reluctance to die for someone else’s country has made peacekeepers consistently ineffective at stopping active fighting. Examples abound, from Dutch peacekeepers’ failure to prevent the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 to the UN peacekeepers’ obedient withdrawal from Sinai in 1967 when Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser wanted a path cleared for his troops to invade Israel.

In other words, an international force would be useless at preventing anti-Israel terror if Palestinians wanted to perpetrate such attacks — and completely unnecessary if they did not.

Unfortunately, experience has taught most Israelis to consider the former possibility more likely. And until that changes, they will view any substitute for their own army in the West Bank as a nonstarter.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

Did Obama mention this in Cairo? “A group of young Saudi men have launched a campaign to convince Saudi men of the unappreciated virtues of polygamy.  It is a response to young Saudi women uninterested in joining a polygamous marriage, older Saudi women divorcees and Saudi men unable or unwilling to support more than one woman. The campaign seeks to counter what Saudi traditionalists see as an increasingly negative stigma attached to polygamy.”

Did Democratic lawmakers actually buy the notion that the American people would learn to love ObamaCare? “Almost four months after the passage of major health care legislation, the law remains unpopular with the public. Nearly half of Americans (47%) disapprove of the health care law while just 35% approve of the measure. An overwhelming proportion of opponents of health care legislation — 37% of the public overall — favor repealing the legislation as soon as possible. Just 7% say they want to let the law stand and see how it works. Public opinion toward health care legislation remained very stable in the months leading up to the bill’s passage, and that has continued to be the case.” That miscalculation will likely end more than a few political careers.

Did you expect anything else? “South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is sending strong signals that he may again buck his party and become the lone GOP senator on the Judiciary Committee to vote for Elena Kagan to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.”

Did Gen. Stanley McChrystal do us all a big favor? Gallup reports: “[Gen. David Petraeus] takes his new job as commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan with a remarkably positive image among Americans who know who he is. At the same time, Petraeus now faces the additional challenge of commanding a mission that the majority of Americans say is going badly. Americans’ views of the situation in Iraq improved during and after Petraeus’ tenure as commander in that country. The degree to which Petraeus will be able to shift Americans’ perceptions of the war in Afghanistan in similar fashion will have important consequences in many arenas, including the politics of the war in the U.S.”

Did you think in November 2008 that Barbara Boxer would now be in a toss-up race?

Did he check with Robert Gibbs? “House Majority Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) became the latest Democratic leader to voice confidence that the party will hold its majority in the House this fall.”

Did Robert Reich ever sound so smart? “Democrats have been almost as reluctant to attack inequality or even to recognize it as the central economic and social problem of our age. … As money has risen to the top, so has political power. Politicians are more dependent than ever on big money for their campaigns. … Today’s cash comes in the form of ever increasing campaign donations from corporate executives and Wall Street, their ever larger platoons of lobbyists and their hordes of PR flacks.” Hence, the “major fault line in American politics is no longer between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, but between the ‘establishment’ and an increasingly mad-as-hell populace determined to ‘take back America’ from it.”

Did Obama mention this in Cairo? “A group of young Saudi men have launched a campaign to convince Saudi men of the unappreciated virtues of polygamy.  It is a response to young Saudi women uninterested in joining a polygamous marriage, older Saudi women divorcees and Saudi men unable or unwilling to support more than one woman. The campaign seeks to counter what Saudi traditionalists see as an increasingly negative stigma attached to polygamy.”

Did Democratic lawmakers actually buy the notion that the American people would learn to love ObamaCare? “Almost four months after the passage of major health care legislation, the law remains unpopular with the public. Nearly half of Americans (47%) disapprove of the health care law while just 35% approve of the measure. An overwhelming proportion of opponents of health care legislation — 37% of the public overall — favor repealing the legislation as soon as possible. Just 7% say they want to let the law stand and see how it works. Public opinion toward health care legislation remained very stable in the months leading up to the bill’s passage, and that has continued to be the case.” That miscalculation will likely end more than a few political careers.

Did you expect anything else? “South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is sending strong signals that he may again buck his party and become the lone GOP senator on the Judiciary Committee to vote for Elena Kagan to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.”

Did Gen. Stanley McChrystal do us all a big favor? Gallup reports: “[Gen. David Petraeus] takes his new job as commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan with a remarkably positive image among Americans who know who he is. At the same time, Petraeus now faces the additional challenge of commanding a mission that the majority of Americans say is going badly. Americans’ views of the situation in Iraq improved during and after Petraeus’ tenure as commander in that country. The degree to which Petraeus will be able to shift Americans’ perceptions of the war in Afghanistan in similar fashion will have important consequences in many arenas, including the politics of the war in the U.S.”

Did you think in November 2008 that Barbara Boxer would now be in a toss-up race?

Did he check with Robert Gibbs? “House Majority Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) became the latest Democratic leader to voice confidence that the party will hold its majority in the House this fall.”

Did Robert Reich ever sound so smart? “Democrats have been almost as reluctant to attack inequality or even to recognize it as the central economic and social problem of our age. … As money has risen to the top, so has political power. Politicians are more dependent than ever on big money for their campaigns. … Today’s cash comes in the form of ever increasing campaign donations from corporate executives and Wall Street, their ever larger platoons of lobbyists and their hordes of PR flacks.” Hence, the “major fault line in American politics is no longer between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, but between the ‘establishment’ and an increasingly mad-as-hell populace determined to ‘take back America’ from it.”

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CENTCOM’s ‘Red Team’ Hearts Hamas and Hezbollah

It appears that the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups have some friends in a rather unlikely niche of the American military. While the Obama administration has maintained the line that both these groups are terrorist and threats to peace, some senior intelligence officers at the U.S. military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) think the United States should be making nice with them.

According to Mark Perry, writing in Foreign Policy, a leaked memo that was issued on May 7 by a CENTCOM “Red Team” asserts that the United States ought to be advocating for Hezbollah’s integration into the Lebanese Armed Forces and a Hamas-Fatah merger for the Palestinians. He quotes the report as characterizing the Islamist terror groups as “pragmatic and opportunistic” and plays down the close ties between them and Iran, for which they are widely viewed as local proxies. The memo compared Hezbollah with the post–Good Friday Agreement Irish Republican Army and seems to envision its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, becoming the Gerry Adams of Lebanon and a force for peace. As for Hamas, not only did the report boost that Islamist group, but it also dismissed the much-touted efforts of Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton in helping to train a new Palestinian security force that would control terrorism.

Red Team reports are supposed to challenge existing policies and attitudes, but according to Perry, this apologia for Hamas and Hezbollah and repudiation of efforts to isolate these terror organizations actually “reflects the thinking among a significant number of senior officers at CENTCOM headquarters — and among senior CENTCOM intelligence officers and analysts serving in the Middle East.”

If that is so, then it is a matter of deep concern for those who worry about the future of the Middle East. While the Obama administration has sought to distance itself from Israel, it has nevertheless resisted the temptation to repudiate the basic principles of American policy, which has always insisted that such groups must repudiate terrorism, recognize the State of Israel, and adhere to existing peace agreements before they can seek U.S. recognition, let alone the sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval that the CENTCOM Red Team believes should be given to them. Moreover, the memo’s repudiation of efforts to aid Palestinian moderates ought to give Israelis pause. Both Israel and the United States have been active in supporting the efforts of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s attempts to create an infrastructure that could resist Hamas and become a credible partner for peace. But calling for Hamas to be integrated into the forces that Dayton is training is tantamount to saying that the two-state solution is dead and that Israel is, more or less, on its own as it faces the challenge of Palestinian terror.

There are many problems with the Red Team’s point of view, but the chief objection is that it completely misunderstands the power of extremist religion in determining the policies of both Hamas and Hezbollah. Both are guided by Islamist ideas that utterly reject the legitimacy of Israel and are steeped in anti-Jewish and anti-Western hatred. The notion that they can be house trained in the way that the Red Team envisions is not only ridiculous but also bespeaks a Western mindset that has no comprehension of extremist Islamic or Arabic political culture.

While there is no reason to believe that either the administration or outgoing CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus has endorsed this radical departure from American anti-terror policy, the leaking of this memo and the notion that it represents the opinions of many in the Pentagon ought to scare Israelis and leave them less willing than ever to make the sorts of concessions Washington believes can strengthen the peace process. If many in the U.S. military are willing to rationalize Hamas and Hezbollah in the way this memo does, then Israelis may be forgiven for concluding that perhaps they need to re-evaluate their own faith in American guarantees of the security of the Jewish state.

It appears that the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups have some friends in a rather unlikely niche of the American military. While the Obama administration has maintained the line that both these groups are terrorist and threats to peace, some senior intelligence officers at the U.S. military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) think the United States should be making nice with them.

According to Mark Perry, writing in Foreign Policy, a leaked memo that was issued on May 7 by a CENTCOM “Red Team” asserts that the United States ought to be advocating for Hezbollah’s integration into the Lebanese Armed Forces and a Hamas-Fatah merger for the Palestinians. He quotes the report as characterizing the Islamist terror groups as “pragmatic and opportunistic” and plays down the close ties between them and Iran, for which they are widely viewed as local proxies. The memo compared Hezbollah with the post–Good Friday Agreement Irish Republican Army and seems to envision its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, becoming the Gerry Adams of Lebanon and a force for peace. As for Hamas, not only did the report boost that Islamist group, but it also dismissed the much-touted efforts of Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton in helping to train a new Palestinian security force that would control terrorism.

Red Team reports are supposed to challenge existing policies and attitudes, but according to Perry, this apologia for Hamas and Hezbollah and repudiation of efforts to isolate these terror organizations actually “reflects the thinking among a significant number of senior officers at CENTCOM headquarters — and among senior CENTCOM intelligence officers and analysts serving in the Middle East.”

If that is so, then it is a matter of deep concern for those who worry about the future of the Middle East. While the Obama administration has sought to distance itself from Israel, it has nevertheless resisted the temptation to repudiate the basic principles of American policy, which has always insisted that such groups must repudiate terrorism, recognize the State of Israel, and adhere to existing peace agreements before they can seek U.S. recognition, let alone the sort of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval that the CENTCOM Red Team believes should be given to them. Moreover, the memo’s repudiation of efforts to aid Palestinian moderates ought to give Israelis pause. Both Israel and the United States have been active in supporting the efforts of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s attempts to create an infrastructure that could resist Hamas and become a credible partner for peace. But calling for Hamas to be integrated into the forces that Dayton is training is tantamount to saying that the two-state solution is dead and that Israel is, more or less, on its own as it faces the challenge of Palestinian terror.

There are many problems with the Red Team’s point of view, but the chief objection is that it completely misunderstands the power of extremist religion in determining the policies of both Hamas and Hezbollah. Both are guided by Islamist ideas that utterly reject the legitimacy of Israel and are steeped in anti-Jewish and anti-Western hatred. The notion that they can be house trained in the way that the Red Team envisions is not only ridiculous but also bespeaks a Western mindset that has no comprehension of extremist Islamic or Arabic political culture.

While there is no reason to believe that either the administration or outgoing CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus has endorsed this radical departure from American anti-terror policy, the leaking of this memo and the notion that it represents the opinions of many in the Pentagon ought to scare Israelis and leave them less willing than ever to make the sorts of concessions Washington believes can strengthen the peace process. If many in the U.S. military are willing to rationalize Hamas and Hezbollah in the way this memo does, then Israelis may be forgiven for concluding that perhaps they need to re-evaluate their own faith in American guarantees of the security of the Jewish state.

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Religious Intolerance in the Middle East: Where Should We Focus?

In the Washington Post‘s On Faith blog, Menachem Rosensaft looks at Morocco’s expulsion of  Christian missionaries who were accused of proselytizing at a Moroccan orphanage earlier this year. As Rosensaft explains:

A group of Republican members of Congress have taken up the cause of the expelled Christian missionaries, which is, of course, their right. Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Anh Cao (R-La.) recently convened a [briefing] at which they urged Morocco to allow the deportees to return.

At the [briefing], some of the rhetoric turned ugly. Rep. Wolf called for the suspension of U.S. foreign aid to Morocco and compared the Moroccan government to the repressive Ceaucescu regime in Romania during the 1980′s. Rep. Pitts went further and likened the measures taken by the Moroccan authorities to “some of the tactics used by the Nazis.”

Rosensaft provides some much-needed perspective on the incident. Morocco, as he observes, is the least of our concerns when it comes to suppression of religious freedom in the Middle East:

The Kingdom of Morocco is a Muslim nation where Jews and Christian are able to practice their religions openly. Synagogues and churches stand alongside mosques, and the Moroccan government is a rare beacon of tolerance in an otherwise mostly religiously xenophobic Muslim world. Both King Muhammed VI and his late father, King Hassan, have publicly placed the Moroccan Jewish community under royal protection. As Rabbi Marc Schneier, vice president of the World Jewish Congress, reminds us, “during World War II, when Morocco was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco .” Moroccan law simultaneously guarantees freedom of religion and criminalizes proselytization. Morocco has also been a stalwart ally of the United States and the West.

Rosensaft notes that an anti-proselytizing law, common throughout the Middle East, is what is at issue and what was the basis for the missionaries’ expulsion. Rosensaft concludes:

Non-Muslims enjoy far greater freedom of religion in Morocco than in most other Muslim countries, and Americans who go there are fully aware that proselytizing is prohibited. There are no allegations that the Americans involved were tortured or physically mistreated. They were simply expelled from Morocco for refusing to abide by its laws.

Rosensaft is not alone in raising a cautionary flag. The World Jewish Congress last week wrote to the House Foreign Affairs Committee members and co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Reps. Wolf and James McGovern. The letter included this:

As Chairman of the World Jewish Congress United States, I have met with Moroccan leaders on several occasions to discuss our shared commitment in building ties of communication, reconciliation and cooperation between the Muslim and Jewish communities. I am aware first hand that the Kingdom of Morocco is determined to strengthen interfaith relations. As has historically been the case, Morocco’s leaders continue to promote dialogue based on tolerant speech, good intention and honored objectives.

Morocco in the Middle East is a paradigm of religious freedom and tolerance. The Jewish community of present-day Morocco dates back more than 2,000 years. During World War II, when France was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco. There are centuries old synagogues, old-age homes, and kosher restaurants throughout Morocco that are well kept by Muslims. And, there are close ties between Morocco and the State of Israel.

Raphael Benchimol, the rabbi of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation, also wrote to Wolf this month, urging him to consider Morocco’s record on religious tolerance. He included this account of a synagogue trip this February:

We visited the sites of Moroccan synagogues, places of historic and religious importance to the Moroccan Jewish community, and the final resting places of many of the righteous Moroccan rabbis and sages who have rested in Morocco, in harmony, for thousands of years. Never once during our stay did I see any lack of religious tolerance or freedom. Never once did I sense the “precarious” situation you describe vis-à-vis our religion. To the contrary, I always felt safe and secure to pray and visit any of the Jewish sites without any fear whatsoever. The Muslim citizens of each of the cities we visited were polite, courteous and respectful of our religious tour. Indeed, I observed how many of the locals have a deep reverence for our holy sites. …

To give you an idea of how important the Jewish “minority religion” is to the King and to the Moroccan government, this past May we hosted a special event at our synagogue where several representatives of the Moroccan government, including Ambassador Mekouar, were present. Serge Berdugo, a Jewish Ambassador of the King of Morocco, beautifully presented to our congregants “His Majesty’s gracious and holy plan to identify, refurbish and protect all the Jewish cemeteries and mausoleums in Morocco.” The Ambassador also proudly announced that “as Commander of the faithful, His Majesty safeguards the sacred values of His subjects, Jew and Muslims alike.” This positive message as well as the gracious offer of the King was received with deep gratitude and sheer excitement by the entire congregation.

There is a disturbing pattern of religious oppression and intolerance in Muslim countries – but not in Morocco. The unfortunate situation at the Christian orphanage (how many of those exist in Muslim countries?) should not obscure this. As a savvy analyst explains, “They should never have let evangelicals run orphanages; that was the mistake. When a kid has no home to return to, the religious influence of those acting in loco parentis is inevitable.” But that is a discrete issue, and resolvable by the Moroccan government. It would seem that the best use of the time and focus of Congress — which is at least making a good effort to pick up the slack from an administration utterly indifferent to the issue of religious freedom — would be to focus on the worst actors in the Muslim World, not the best.

In the Washington Post‘s On Faith blog, Menachem Rosensaft looks at Morocco’s expulsion of  Christian missionaries who were accused of proselytizing at a Moroccan orphanage earlier this year. As Rosensaft explains:

A group of Republican members of Congress have taken up the cause of the expelled Christian missionaries, which is, of course, their right. Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Anh Cao (R-La.) recently convened a [briefing] at which they urged Morocco to allow the deportees to return.

At the [briefing], some of the rhetoric turned ugly. Rep. Wolf called for the suspension of U.S. foreign aid to Morocco and compared the Moroccan government to the repressive Ceaucescu regime in Romania during the 1980′s. Rep. Pitts went further and likened the measures taken by the Moroccan authorities to “some of the tactics used by the Nazis.”

Rosensaft provides some much-needed perspective on the incident. Morocco, as he observes, is the least of our concerns when it comes to suppression of religious freedom in the Middle East:

The Kingdom of Morocco is a Muslim nation where Jews and Christian are able to practice their religions openly. Synagogues and churches stand alongside mosques, and the Moroccan government is a rare beacon of tolerance in an otherwise mostly religiously xenophobic Muslim world. Both King Muhammed VI and his late father, King Hassan, have publicly placed the Moroccan Jewish community under royal protection. As Rabbi Marc Schneier, vice president of the World Jewish Congress, reminds us, “during World War II, when Morocco was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco .” Moroccan law simultaneously guarantees freedom of religion and criminalizes proselytization. Morocco has also been a stalwart ally of the United States and the West.

Rosensaft notes that an anti-proselytizing law, common throughout the Middle East, is what is at issue and what was the basis for the missionaries’ expulsion. Rosensaft concludes:

Non-Muslims enjoy far greater freedom of religion in Morocco than in most other Muslim countries, and Americans who go there are fully aware that proselytizing is prohibited. There are no allegations that the Americans involved were tortured or physically mistreated. They were simply expelled from Morocco for refusing to abide by its laws.

Rosensaft is not alone in raising a cautionary flag. The World Jewish Congress last week wrote to the House Foreign Affairs Committee members and co-chairman of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, Reps. Wolf and James McGovern. The letter included this:

As Chairman of the World Jewish Congress United States, I have met with Moroccan leaders on several occasions to discuss our shared commitment in building ties of communication, reconciliation and cooperation between the Muslim and Jewish communities. I am aware first hand that the Kingdom of Morocco is determined to strengthen interfaith relations. As has historically been the case, Morocco’s leaders continue to promote dialogue based on tolerant speech, good intention and honored objectives.

Morocco in the Middle East is a paradigm of religious freedom and tolerance. The Jewish community of present-day Morocco dates back more than 2,000 years. During World War II, when France was ruled by the anti-Semitic Vichy government, King Muhammed V prevented the deportation of Jews from Morocco. There are centuries old synagogues, old-age homes, and kosher restaurants throughout Morocco that are well kept by Muslims. And, there are close ties between Morocco and the State of Israel.

Raphael Benchimol, the rabbi of the Manhattan Sephardic Congregation, also wrote to Wolf this month, urging him to consider Morocco’s record on religious tolerance. He included this account of a synagogue trip this February:

We visited the sites of Moroccan synagogues, places of historic and religious importance to the Moroccan Jewish community, and the final resting places of many of the righteous Moroccan rabbis and sages who have rested in Morocco, in harmony, for thousands of years. Never once during our stay did I see any lack of religious tolerance or freedom. Never once did I sense the “precarious” situation you describe vis-à-vis our religion. To the contrary, I always felt safe and secure to pray and visit any of the Jewish sites without any fear whatsoever. The Muslim citizens of each of the cities we visited were polite, courteous and respectful of our religious tour. Indeed, I observed how many of the locals have a deep reverence for our holy sites. …

To give you an idea of how important the Jewish “minority religion” is to the King and to the Moroccan government, this past May we hosted a special event at our synagogue where several representatives of the Moroccan government, including Ambassador Mekouar, were present. Serge Berdugo, a Jewish Ambassador of the King of Morocco, beautifully presented to our congregants “His Majesty’s gracious and holy plan to identify, refurbish and protect all the Jewish cemeteries and mausoleums in Morocco.” The Ambassador also proudly announced that “as Commander of the faithful, His Majesty safeguards the sacred values of His subjects, Jew and Muslims alike.” This positive message as well as the gracious offer of the King was received with deep gratitude and sheer excitement by the entire congregation.

There is a disturbing pattern of religious oppression and intolerance in Muslim countries – but not in Morocco. The unfortunate situation at the Christian orphanage (how many of those exist in Muslim countries?) should not obscure this. As a savvy analyst explains, “They should never have let evangelicals run orphanages; that was the mistake. When a kid has no home to return to, the religious influence of those acting in loco parentis is inevitable.” But that is a discrete issue, and resolvable by the Moroccan government. It would seem that the best use of the time and focus of Congress — which is at least making a good effort to pick up the slack from an administration utterly indifferent to the issue of religious freedom — would be to focus on the worst actors in the Muslim World, not the best.

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The Magic Words

Politico reports that during his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General David Petraeus, named by President Obama to succeed Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was pressed by Senator Lindsey Graham on a recent letter sent by anti-war congresswoman Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) tying support for war funding to a plan for withdrawal.

Under continued questioning from Graham, Petraeus said that putting such conditions on war funding “would be contrary to the whole policy, which is conditions based.”

Those words — “conditions based” — are vital. They demonstrate to both our friends and our enemies that we’re not foolishly committed to withdrawal on an arbitrary date (in this case, July 2011). That Petraeus used these words isn’t surprising; he knows how to run and win a war. But it would help a great deal if his command in chief would as well.

Politico reports that during his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General David Petraeus, named by President Obama to succeed Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was pressed by Senator Lindsey Graham on a recent letter sent by anti-war congresswoman Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) tying support for war funding to a plan for withdrawal.

Under continued questioning from Graham, Petraeus said that putting such conditions on war funding “would be contrary to the whole policy, which is conditions based.”

Those words — “conditions based” — are vital. They demonstrate to both our friends and our enemies that we’re not foolishly committed to withdrawal on an arbitrary date (in this case, July 2011). That Petraeus used these words isn’t surprising; he knows how to run and win a war. But it would help a great deal if his command in chief would as well.

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RE: A Good Move. Now…

Jennifer, while agreeing with much of what you have to say about the McChrystal-Petraeus transition, I have to disagree with your reader who says, “Generals should only talk to their troops.” Perhaps that was once true; it is certainly no longer true. A general who neglects his public-outreach function is guilty of dereliction of duty. Indeed, that was part of the reason why General George Casey was unsuccessful in Iraq; he was hunkered down in Baghdad and he was not communicating effectively with people either in Iraq or in the United States to explain and defend his strategy.

For that matter, by neglecting the news media, a senior general cannot effectively communicate with his own troops. Like it or not, one of the most effective ways to reach an organization of hundreds of thousands of individuals is through the mass media.

Luckily, General Petraeus is keenly aware of the need to engage in strategic communication, which involves opening up the battlefield to the news media and academic experts and opening up the commander to interviews. This has made him somewhat controversial within the army, which has a traditional disdain for the news media — an attitude that will only be reinforced by the fallout over the Rolling Stone interview. It is significant, however, that Petraeus has never gotten into that kind of trouble, notwithstanding all the interviews he has given over the years. And he hasn’t managed to stay out of trouble by uttering platitudes or ridiculously rosy predictions. He has a rare gift for conveying sincerity without stepping over the line or making inappropriate and indiscreet comments of the kind McChrystal and his staff made. That is a skill that all successful generals must cultivate in the Information Age. “No comment” is simply no longer an option.

Jennifer, while agreeing with much of what you have to say about the McChrystal-Petraeus transition, I have to disagree with your reader who says, “Generals should only talk to their troops.” Perhaps that was once true; it is certainly no longer true. A general who neglects his public-outreach function is guilty of dereliction of duty. Indeed, that was part of the reason why General George Casey was unsuccessful in Iraq; he was hunkered down in Baghdad and he was not communicating effectively with people either in Iraq or in the United States to explain and defend his strategy.

For that matter, by neglecting the news media, a senior general cannot effectively communicate with his own troops. Like it or not, one of the most effective ways to reach an organization of hundreds of thousands of individuals is through the mass media.

Luckily, General Petraeus is keenly aware of the need to engage in strategic communication, which involves opening up the battlefield to the news media and academic experts and opening up the commander to interviews. This has made him somewhat controversial within the army, which has a traditional disdain for the news media — an attitude that will only be reinforced by the fallout over the Rolling Stone interview. It is significant, however, that Petraeus has never gotten into that kind of trouble, notwithstanding all the interviews he has given over the years. And he hasn’t managed to stay out of trouble by uttering platitudes or ridiculously rosy predictions. He has a rare gift for conveying sincerity without stepping over the line or making inappropriate and indiscreet comments of the kind McChrystal and his staff made. That is a skill that all successful generals must cultivate in the Information Age. “No comment” is simply no longer an option.

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McChrystal Out, Petraeus In

Bill Kristol called it. General Petraeus is heading out to rescue yet another counterinsurgency effort in trouble. Give credit to President Obama for acting decisively by relieving General McChrystal and immediately picking the best possible replacement, not letting a dangerous vacuum develop.

If there is one general who can step quickly  into the top job in Afghanistan, it is Petraeus, who has been closely involved in formulating the campaign plan along with McChrystal. And if there is one general who knows how to handle the media and the political process (skills that McChrystal obviously lacked), it is Petraeus. That doesn’t mean that he is a “political general” — that dreaded epithet applied by combat soldiers to those who get ahead by playing office politics rather than by proving their worth on the battlefield. Petraeus has proven himself at every level of command, on the battlefield and off. His courage cannot be doubted. Neither can his skill. Already in Iraq, he has pulled off the greatest turnaround in American military history since Matthew Ridgway took over the 8th Army in 1950 during the dark days of the Korean War. Now he has to do it again in Afghanistan. Don’t bet against him.

As for General McChrystal, it is a tragedy that his sterling career has come to such an inglorious end. McChrystal is widely admired, especially in the Special Operations community, and for good reason. He turned the Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq into a well-honed killing machine. He also did much to improve the situation in Afghanistan, injecting fresh energy into the war effort and designing a campaign plan that can succeed. He deserves enormous credit, too, for declaring in his first major report to the president last summer that the war effort would fail without a fresh injection of troops. That prompted Obama to send more troops, which now gives the NATO command a shot at success. Unfortunately the Rolling Stone incident showed that he was not quite ready to operate at the highest strategic level, where discretion and judgment are prized, and where Special-Forces swagger can be a liability.

But President Obama should not fool himself into thinking that, by replacing McChrystal with Petraeus, he has magically solved all of the problems with the war effort. There is still that little matter of the looming deadline — July 2011 — for troop withdrawals. Vice President Biden is pulling for a rapid pullout, and Defense Secretary Gates is taking a go-slow approach. McChrystal has been firmly aligned with Gates, while the U.S. Ambassador in Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, has publicly backed the “light footprint” approach advocated by Biden. That tension will not disappear because of the change of command; Petraeus is a firm believer in the need for a prolonged counterinsurgency campaign, just as McChrystal was. So far, President Obama has been mum on what the deadline means and how many troops will actually come out. He should back his new commander with a firm pledge to make any withdrawal strictly contingent on conditions being met, and he should leave open the possibility of sending more troops if necessary.

Obama also needs to rethink the entire team in Kabul — not just the military component. In Iraq, Petraeus succeeded in part because he found such a capable and cooperative “wing man” — Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Perhaps Eikenberry will work better with Petraeus than he did with McChrystal; certainly Petraues is more diplomatic and better at tending to those kinds of relationships. But I hope that the president would give serious consideration to the other part of Bill Kristol’s suggestion to appoint Ryan Crocker as ambassador in Kabul. And if Crocker wouldn’t do it, because of his health and other reasons, no doubt there is another capable diplomat who could do the job. Whoever the top diplomatic representative is, he needs to cultivate a good relationship with Hamid Karzai — something that Eikenberry has notoriously lacked and that McChrystal, to his credit, did not.

The president has made a good start by putting our very best general into Kabul. But Petraeus will have a tough task ahead of him — and he will need complete support from the president to succeed. In particular, Obama needs to make sure that other members of his administration don’t undercut Petraeus as they once undercut McChrystal. More than that, Obama needs to show the same kind of will to win that President Bush displayed in Iraq when he ordered the surge. Instead, we have mostly had cool ambivalence from the Oval Office, and that has led to the tensions that boiled over in the Rolling Stone article with McChrystal’s aides expressing derogatory views of Biden and other administration higher-ups. It would be nice if Obama were to give speeches on Afghanistan more than once every six months. He can’t just hand off the war to David Petraeus and check that box; a successful war effort needs consistent presidential leadership in public as well as behind closed doors.

Bill Kristol called it. General Petraeus is heading out to rescue yet another counterinsurgency effort in trouble. Give credit to President Obama for acting decisively by relieving General McChrystal and immediately picking the best possible replacement, not letting a dangerous vacuum develop.

If there is one general who can step quickly  into the top job in Afghanistan, it is Petraeus, who has been closely involved in formulating the campaign plan along with McChrystal. And if there is one general who knows how to handle the media and the political process (skills that McChrystal obviously lacked), it is Petraeus. That doesn’t mean that he is a “political general” — that dreaded epithet applied by combat soldiers to those who get ahead by playing office politics rather than by proving their worth on the battlefield. Petraeus has proven himself at every level of command, on the battlefield and off. His courage cannot be doubted. Neither can his skill. Already in Iraq, he has pulled off the greatest turnaround in American military history since Matthew Ridgway took over the 8th Army in 1950 during the dark days of the Korean War. Now he has to do it again in Afghanistan. Don’t bet against him.

As for General McChrystal, it is a tragedy that his sterling career has come to such an inglorious end. McChrystal is widely admired, especially in the Special Operations community, and for good reason. He turned the Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq into a well-honed killing machine. He also did much to improve the situation in Afghanistan, injecting fresh energy into the war effort and designing a campaign plan that can succeed. He deserves enormous credit, too, for declaring in his first major report to the president last summer that the war effort would fail without a fresh injection of troops. That prompted Obama to send more troops, which now gives the NATO command a shot at success. Unfortunately the Rolling Stone incident showed that he was not quite ready to operate at the highest strategic level, where discretion and judgment are prized, and where Special-Forces swagger can be a liability.

But President Obama should not fool himself into thinking that, by replacing McChrystal with Petraeus, he has magically solved all of the problems with the war effort. There is still that little matter of the looming deadline — July 2011 — for troop withdrawals. Vice President Biden is pulling for a rapid pullout, and Defense Secretary Gates is taking a go-slow approach. McChrystal has been firmly aligned with Gates, while the U.S. Ambassador in Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, has publicly backed the “light footprint” approach advocated by Biden. That tension will not disappear because of the change of command; Petraeus is a firm believer in the need for a prolonged counterinsurgency campaign, just as McChrystal was. So far, President Obama has been mum on what the deadline means and how many troops will actually come out. He should back his new commander with a firm pledge to make any withdrawal strictly contingent on conditions being met, and he should leave open the possibility of sending more troops if necessary.

Obama also needs to rethink the entire team in Kabul — not just the military component. In Iraq, Petraeus succeeded in part because he found such a capable and cooperative “wing man” — Ambassador Ryan Crocker. Perhaps Eikenberry will work better with Petraeus than he did with McChrystal; certainly Petraues is more diplomatic and better at tending to those kinds of relationships. But I hope that the president would give serious consideration to the other part of Bill Kristol’s suggestion to appoint Ryan Crocker as ambassador in Kabul. And if Crocker wouldn’t do it, because of his health and other reasons, no doubt there is another capable diplomat who could do the job. Whoever the top diplomatic representative is, he needs to cultivate a good relationship with Hamid Karzai — something that Eikenberry has notoriously lacked and that McChrystal, to his credit, did not.

The president has made a good start by putting our very best general into Kabul. But Petraeus will have a tough task ahead of him — and he will need complete support from the president to succeed. In particular, Obama needs to make sure that other members of his administration don’t undercut Petraeus as they once undercut McChrystal. More than that, Obama needs to show the same kind of will to win that President Bush displayed in Iraq when he ordered the surge. Instead, we have mostly had cool ambivalence from the Oval Office, and that has led to the tensions that boiled over in the Rolling Stone article with McChrystal’s aides expressing derogatory views of Biden and other administration higher-ups. It would be nice if Obama were to give speeches on Afghanistan more than once every six months. He can’t just hand off the war to David Petraeus and check that box; a successful war effort needs consistent presidential leadership in public as well as behind closed doors.

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Karzai Supports McChrystal

Amid all the denunciations of General McChrystal (many admittedly deserved), he has gotten a vote of confidence from an interesting quarter. The Washington Post says:

A spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, however, issued a statement saying Karzai “strongly supports McChrystal and his strategy in Afghanistan and believes he is the best commander the United States has sent to Afghanistan over the last nine years,” the wire service reported.

One of McChrystal’s most significant accomplishments has been to establish a good rapport with Karzai — something enjoyed by no other senior American official. Karzai’s statement can be read, among other ways, as a dig at U.S. ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who was himself one of the American military commanders in Afghanistan. If Obama gets rid of McChrystal, his relationship with Karzai will suffer a significant loss.

Amid all the denunciations of General McChrystal (many admittedly deserved), he has gotten a vote of confidence from an interesting quarter. The Washington Post says:

A spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, however, issued a statement saying Karzai “strongly supports McChrystal and his strategy in Afghanistan and believes he is the best commander the United States has sent to Afghanistan over the last nine years,” the wire service reported.

One of McChrystal’s most significant accomplishments has been to establish a good rapport with Karzai — something enjoyed by no other senior American official. Karzai’s statement can be read, among other ways, as a dig at U.S. ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who was himself one of the American military commanders in Afghanistan. If Obama gets rid of McChrystal, his relationship with Karzai will suffer a significant loss.

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The Missing Link: It’s Not McChrystal

General Stanley McChrystal’s frustration – some of it most improperly expressed – reminded me of the Washington Post background piece from December 2009, in which the authors communicated the Obama Afghanistan policy thus:

The White House’s desired end state in Afghanistan, officials said, envisions more informal local security arrangements than in Iraq, a less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence.

According to an administration official:

The guidance they [the military] have is that we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever. … The hardest intellectual exercise will be settling on how much is enough.

I wrote at the time that this was not executable guidance. It’s the kind of guidance that can be used with some limited success by an individual leader who has a more specific plan and enjoys latitude, trust, and support from his seniors. But success will always be limited — local, situational, and tactical — when the overarching guidance consists not of an objective but of an anti-objective. McChrystal has made the most of his options within the framework of guidance, which amounts to a politically-manipulable exit strategy. But it has been clear for months that his political supervisors — Karl Eikenberry, Richard Holbrooke, the president — are fundamentally disengaged from the actual campaign plan being implemented.

Who has the sense that President Obama is politically and morally invested in the surge being ramped up in Kandahar? When does he speak of it in public? When does he lend the weight of statesmanlike rhetoric to the military effort in its specific incarnations? As commander in chief, he has confined himself largely to expressing generic thanks to the troops for their service and sacrifice. He speaks occasionally about political relations with Afghanistan and the Karzai regime, but we never hear him making a military-operational case for NATO’s endeavors there — or tying the military approach to our political goals.

That is a virtually unique failing in an American president. Think back through all the presidents in your lifetime: each one of them, even Jimmy Carter, gave a stronger impression of integrated, accountable leadership in the military realm. This is not a matter of putting on a show or cultivating appearances either. The issue is conveying that what’s being done in the field in Afghanistan represents the president’s will and intention and has a purpose he is fully committed to.

The truth is, however, that there is no commitment to an objective. That’s what it means when Obama’s advisers speak vaguely of a “less-capable national government” for Afghanistan than for Iraq, a “greater tolerance of insurgent violence,” and “not doing everything and not doing it forever.” I believe, with Max Boot and others, that Afghanistan is winnable; but even with McChrystal’s strategy, I do not believe it can be won while the political guidance is temporizing and uncommitted. Military force is a tool of political will, not a substitute for it.

Sadly, a chastened General McChrystal will function even less effectively in this environment. When your job entails offering unpalatable truths and unwelcome advice, breaches of trust are very hard to overcome. In this painful situation, it would be a better sign of Obama’s own engagement if he picked a new commander. If he doesn’t, I wish McChrystal all the lucky breaks he can get. He’s going to need them.

General Stanley McChrystal’s frustration – some of it most improperly expressed – reminded me of the Washington Post background piece from December 2009, in which the authors communicated the Obama Afghanistan policy thus:

The White House’s desired end state in Afghanistan, officials said, envisions more informal local security arrangements than in Iraq, a less-capable national government and a greater tolerance of insurgent violence.

According to an administration official:

The guidance they [the military] have is that we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever. … The hardest intellectual exercise will be settling on how much is enough.

I wrote at the time that this was not executable guidance. It’s the kind of guidance that can be used with some limited success by an individual leader who has a more specific plan and enjoys latitude, trust, and support from his seniors. But success will always be limited — local, situational, and tactical — when the overarching guidance consists not of an objective but of an anti-objective. McChrystal has made the most of his options within the framework of guidance, which amounts to a politically-manipulable exit strategy. But it has been clear for months that his political supervisors — Karl Eikenberry, Richard Holbrooke, the president — are fundamentally disengaged from the actual campaign plan being implemented.

Who has the sense that President Obama is politically and morally invested in the surge being ramped up in Kandahar? When does he speak of it in public? When does he lend the weight of statesmanlike rhetoric to the military effort in its specific incarnations? As commander in chief, he has confined himself largely to expressing generic thanks to the troops for their service and sacrifice. He speaks occasionally about political relations with Afghanistan and the Karzai regime, but we never hear him making a military-operational case for NATO’s endeavors there — or tying the military approach to our political goals.

That is a virtually unique failing in an American president. Think back through all the presidents in your lifetime: each one of them, even Jimmy Carter, gave a stronger impression of integrated, accountable leadership in the military realm. This is not a matter of putting on a show or cultivating appearances either. The issue is conveying that what’s being done in the field in Afghanistan represents the president’s will and intention and has a purpose he is fully committed to.

The truth is, however, that there is no commitment to an objective. That’s what it means when Obama’s advisers speak vaguely of a “less-capable national government” for Afghanistan than for Iraq, a “greater tolerance of insurgent violence,” and “not doing everything and not doing it forever.” I believe, with Max Boot and others, that Afghanistan is winnable; but even with McChrystal’s strategy, I do not believe it can be won while the political guidance is temporizing and uncommitted. Military force is a tool of political will, not a substitute for it.

Sadly, a chastened General McChrystal will function even less effectively in this environment. When your job entails offering unpalatable truths and unwelcome advice, breaches of trust are very hard to overcome. In this painful situation, it would be a better sign of Obama’s own engagement if he picked a new commander. If he doesn’t, I wish McChrystal all the lucky breaks he can get. He’s going to need them.

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Should the General Be Called on the Carpet?

America’s top commander in the war in Afghanistan found himself in deep trouble this morning as the news spread about a profile in Rolling Stone magazine in which Gen. Stanley McChrystal and members of his staff were said to crack wise at the expense of several members of the administration and the president himself.

But having read the text of the article, which is not yet available in the magazine’s online edition, it is clear that the uproar about the general’s supposed insubordination is not justified by the text. The only direct quotes from McChrystal are hardly the sorts of things for which he deserves to be summoned, as he reportedly has been, to Washington for a dressing down by the commander in chief.

One supposedly damning quote was supposed to be a slur on Vice President Joe Biden, who opposed the surge and McChrystal’s recommendations for pursuing the war. But all it amounts to is an exchange in which an aide gives some ribald advice about how to avoid answering any questions about the vice president. The other was a quote in which the general did criticize Karl Eikenberry, America’s ambassador to Kabul. Last year Eikenberry leaked a memo criticizing McChrystal and his strategies to the press in an effort to derail Obama’s decision to send the general the reinforcements he asked for. McChrystal rightly called that act by a former military colleague a “betrayal.” Those expecting McChrystal to be sacked because of the fallout from the article should also remember that Eikenberry did not lose his job over that incident even though the president has made it clear that leaks are to be severely punished.

The rest of the article is a thinly veiled attack on the war effort and the idea that it can be won by the counterinsurgency tactics that McChrystal has championed. While the piece resurrects every unflattering incident in the general’s long career, the accounts of McChrystal’s own behavior in the field in Afghanistan portray him as a courageous soldier who cares for his men and sympathizes with their dilemmas in dealing with the highly restrictive rules of engagement he has designed, which often place them in danger so as to avoid civilian casualties.

As for the other controversial quotes, the contempt that the soldiers seem to have for National Security Adviser James Jones, special diplomatic envoy Richard Holbrooke, and Ambassador Eikenberry is justified. Their unhappiness with Vice President Biden’s influence on war policy is also understandable, as is their reaction to the president’s own uncertain grasp of military strategy. But however much one might sympathize with McChrystal’s plight today, allowing his aides to gripe about their civilian masters in the presence of a freelance writer for Rolling Stone, of all publications, is as dumb as anything Obama’s merry band of strategic incompetents might have done. In a democracy, civilian-military tensions can only be resolved in one way: in favor of the civilians, as Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Gen. George McClellan discovered to their great dismay. Right or wrong, it is not the place of a serving military commander to publicly question the wisdom of the president.

But if Obama takes the time to read the text of the article, he will see that McChrystal is not the disloyal soldier he is being painted as in the first press accounts of this story, such as in the New York Times’s account published today. Far from being evidence of McChrystal’s insubordination, the article actually says much more about the administration’s mistakes in the course of a war to which they have committed so much American blood and treasure. If there is dissension in the ranks about some of the political and diplomatic blunders of the past year and a half, it speaks more to Obama’s own failure to exert leadership than to McChrystal’s faults. While Obama may be annoyed at the publication of this piece, at a time when the outcome of the war is still very much in the balance the president’s focus now should be on how to help Stanley McChrystal win, not whether the general is sufficiently respectful of administration figures who are not helping him in that fight.

America’s top commander in the war in Afghanistan found himself in deep trouble this morning as the news spread about a profile in Rolling Stone magazine in which Gen. Stanley McChrystal and members of his staff were said to crack wise at the expense of several members of the administration and the president himself.

But having read the text of the article, which is not yet available in the magazine’s online edition, it is clear that the uproar about the general’s supposed insubordination is not justified by the text. The only direct quotes from McChrystal are hardly the sorts of things for which he deserves to be summoned, as he reportedly has been, to Washington for a dressing down by the commander in chief.

One supposedly damning quote was supposed to be a slur on Vice President Joe Biden, who opposed the surge and McChrystal’s recommendations for pursuing the war. But all it amounts to is an exchange in which an aide gives some ribald advice about how to avoid answering any questions about the vice president. The other was a quote in which the general did criticize Karl Eikenberry, America’s ambassador to Kabul. Last year Eikenberry leaked a memo criticizing McChrystal and his strategies to the press in an effort to derail Obama’s decision to send the general the reinforcements he asked for. McChrystal rightly called that act by a former military colleague a “betrayal.” Those expecting McChrystal to be sacked because of the fallout from the article should also remember that Eikenberry did not lose his job over that incident even though the president has made it clear that leaks are to be severely punished.

The rest of the article is a thinly veiled attack on the war effort and the idea that it can be won by the counterinsurgency tactics that McChrystal has championed. While the piece resurrects every unflattering incident in the general’s long career, the accounts of McChrystal’s own behavior in the field in Afghanistan portray him as a courageous soldier who cares for his men and sympathizes with their dilemmas in dealing with the highly restrictive rules of engagement he has designed, which often place them in danger so as to avoid civilian casualties.

As for the other controversial quotes, the contempt that the soldiers seem to have for National Security Adviser James Jones, special diplomatic envoy Richard Holbrooke, and Ambassador Eikenberry is justified. Their unhappiness with Vice President Biden’s influence on war policy is also understandable, as is their reaction to the president’s own uncertain grasp of military strategy. But however much one might sympathize with McChrystal’s plight today, allowing his aides to gripe about their civilian masters in the presence of a freelance writer for Rolling Stone, of all publications, is as dumb as anything Obama’s merry band of strategic incompetents might have done. In a democracy, civilian-military tensions can only be resolved in one way: in favor of the civilians, as Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Gen. George McClellan discovered to their great dismay. Right or wrong, it is not the place of a serving military commander to publicly question the wisdom of the president.

But if Obama takes the time to read the text of the article, he will see that McChrystal is not the disloyal soldier he is being painted as in the first press accounts of this story, such as in the New York Times’s account published today. Far from being evidence of McChrystal’s insubordination, the article actually says much more about the administration’s mistakes in the course of a war to which they have committed so much American blood and treasure. If there is dissension in the ranks about some of the political and diplomatic blunders of the past year and a half, it speaks more to Obama’s own failure to exert leadership than to McChrystal’s faults. While Obama may be annoyed at the publication of this piece, at a time when the outcome of the war is still very much in the balance the president’s focus now should be on how to help Stanley McChrystal win, not whether the general is sufficiently respectful of administration figures who are not helping him in that fight.

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McChrystal’s Media Woes

If there is one knock on Stanley McChrystal, generally considered one of the top generals in the entire armed forces, it is that, coming from the secretive world of “black” special operations, he is not experienced in dealing with the media. The consequences of that inexperience have now exploded in his face in the form of a hostile Rolling Stone article entitled “Runaway General.”

What on earth was McChrystal thinking, one wonders, when he decided to grant so much access to an anti-war reporter from an anti-war magazine? Michael Hastings’s animus against the war effort shines through every inch of his article. His conclusion is that “winning” in Afghanistan “is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.” Along the way he brands the counterinsurgency strategy that McChrystal is implementing “a controversial strategy” that is advocated only by “COINdiniastas” notorious for their “their cultish zeal.” When he quotes outside experts in the article, all of them express disparaging views about the prospects of success. For instance:

“The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,” says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. “The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.”

There is no indication in the article that Macgregor is a notorious maverick widely known for his eccentric views, which included calling for the lightest of footprints in the invasion of Iraq (he thought that 50,000 troops would be sufficient) and later opposing the surge in Iraq.

Yet while Macgregor may think McChrystal is implementing an unworkable theory, McChrystal’s plan has had the solid support of General David Petraeus, head of Central Command; Admiral James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Admiral Michael Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and, after an agonizing three-month review in the fall that considered every conceivable alternative, President Obama, himself.

McChrystal was undoubtedly stupid to grant so much access to a hostile reporter, and his aides were equally clueless in making some disparaging remarks in front of this reporter about Vice President Biden and National Security Adviser Jim Jones, among others. But that in no way invalidates McChrystal’s plan, which should be carried out, with some inevitable adjustments, by whomever is the NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Should that person be McChrystal? Despite the calls for his firing emanating from the usual quarters on the left, the general is certainly not guilty of violating the chain of command in the way that truly insubordinate generals like Douglas MacArthur have. Recall that MacArthur publicly disagreed with Truman’ strategy in the Korean War. Likewise, Admiral Fox Fallon was fired as Centcom commander in 2008 after publicly disagreeing in an Esquire article with Bush-administration strategy over Iran. McChrystal does nothing of the sort. At worst, one of his aides says that McChrystal was “disappointed” by his initial meetings with the president, who looked “uncomfortable and intimidated.” Most of the disparaging comments heard from McChrystal’s aides are directed not at the president but at presidential aides who oppose the strategy that the president himself announced back in the fall and that McChrystal is working 24/7 to implement. Is this type of banter enough for Obama to fire McChrystal?

It could be, but if he does it could represent a setback to the war effort — and to the president’s hopes to withdraw some troops next summer. The least disruption would occur if a general already in Afghanistan — Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day to day operations, is the obvious choice — takes over. If an outsider were chosen (e.g., Marine General Jim Mattis), there would likely be a delay of months while the new commander conducted his own assessment of the situation. That’s a delay we can ill afford right now. On the other hand, we can ill afford having McChrystal stay if he is so discredited with the commander in chief and so weakened in internal-administration deliberations that he cannot stand up to the attempts by Biden and other internal critics to downsize the mission prematurely.

McChrystal has undoubtedly created a major problem for himself, his command, and the larger mission in Afghanistan. But I still believe he is a terrific general who has come up with a good strategy and has energized a listless command that was drifting when he took over. Notwithstanding the current turmoil, the war remains eminently winnable, and the McChrystal strategy remains the best option for winning it.

If there is one knock on Stanley McChrystal, generally considered one of the top generals in the entire armed forces, it is that, coming from the secretive world of “black” special operations, he is not experienced in dealing with the media. The consequences of that inexperience have now exploded in his face in the form of a hostile Rolling Stone article entitled “Runaway General.”

What on earth was McChrystal thinking, one wonders, when he decided to grant so much access to an anti-war reporter from an anti-war magazine? Michael Hastings’s animus against the war effort shines through every inch of his article. His conclusion is that “winning” in Afghanistan “is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.” Along the way he brands the counterinsurgency strategy that McChrystal is implementing “a controversial strategy” that is advocated only by “COINdiniastas” notorious for their “their cultish zeal.” When he quotes outside experts in the article, all of them express disparaging views about the prospects of success. For instance:

“The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,” says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. “The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.”

There is no indication in the article that Macgregor is a notorious maverick widely known for his eccentric views, which included calling for the lightest of footprints in the invasion of Iraq (he thought that 50,000 troops would be sufficient) and later opposing the surge in Iraq.

Yet while Macgregor may think McChrystal is implementing an unworkable theory, McChrystal’s plan has had the solid support of General David Petraeus, head of Central Command; Admiral James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Admiral Michael Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and, after an agonizing three-month review in the fall that considered every conceivable alternative, President Obama, himself.

McChrystal was undoubtedly stupid to grant so much access to a hostile reporter, and his aides were equally clueless in making some disparaging remarks in front of this reporter about Vice President Biden and National Security Adviser Jim Jones, among others. But that in no way invalidates McChrystal’s plan, which should be carried out, with some inevitable adjustments, by whomever is the NATO commander in Afghanistan.

Should that person be McChrystal? Despite the calls for his firing emanating from the usual quarters on the left, the general is certainly not guilty of violating the chain of command in the way that truly insubordinate generals like Douglas MacArthur have. Recall that MacArthur publicly disagreed with Truman’ strategy in the Korean War. Likewise, Admiral Fox Fallon was fired as Centcom commander in 2008 after publicly disagreeing in an Esquire article with Bush-administration strategy over Iran. McChrystal does nothing of the sort. At worst, one of his aides says that McChrystal was “disappointed” by his initial meetings with the president, who looked “uncomfortable and intimidated.” Most of the disparaging comments heard from McChrystal’s aides are directed not at the president but at presidential aides who oppose the strategy that the president himself announced back in the fall and that McChrystal is working 24/7 to implement. Is this type of banter enough for Obama to fire McChrystal?

It could be, but if he does it could represent a setback to the war effort — and to the president’s hopes to withdraw some troops next summer. The least disruption would occur if a general already in Afghanistan — Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who runs day to day operations, is the obvious choice — takes over. If an outsider were chosen (e.g., Marine General Jim Mattis), there would likely be a delay of months while the new commander conducted his own assessment of the situation. That’s a delay we can ill afford right now. On the other hand, we can ill afford having McChrystal stay if he is so discredited with the commander in chief and so weakened in internal-administration deliberations that he cannot stand up to the attempts by Biden and other internal critics to downsize the mission prematurely.

McChrystal has undoubtedly created a major problem for himself, his command, and the larger mission in Afghanistan. But I still believe he is a terrific general who has come up with a good strategy and has energized a listless command that was drifting when he took over. Notwithstanding the current turmoil, the war remains eminently winnable, and the McChrystal strategy remains the best option for winning it.

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Our Best Ally in Afghanistan: the Taliban

The Washington Post has a pair of stories that illuminate both the challenges and the potential in the fight against the Taliban.

First the good news: in one part of Daikundi province in southern Afghanistan, the locals have risen up against the Taliban and pushed them out of town. The residents of the town of Gizab, about 100 miles north of Kandahar, got sick of the Taliban’s oppressive presence. Post correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran writes:

The spark for the rebellion was ignited in mid-April, after Lalay [a storekeeper with one name] received $24,000 in compensation payments from the Afghan government to distribute to the relatives of a dozen villagers — six of whom were members of his extended family — killed by a Taliban-planted roadside bomb. A Taliban commander told him to hand over the money, saying it was against Islam to accept funds from the government. “If it is haram” — forbidden — “for me, then it is haram for you,” Lalay recalled replying.

The insurgents did not relent. They detained his brother and then his father, a tribal leader in the village. It was then that Lalay decided to plot the revolt.

Before long, the villagers were in a full-fledged firefight against the Taliban. There aren’t many coalition troops in Daikundi, but they asked for help, and Australian and U.S. Special Operations soldiers answered the call. The revolt against the Taliban has since progressed:

Lalay’s force has now grown to 300 men. They conduct foot patrols and operate checkpoints in and around Gizab. The revolt also has spread to 14 neighboring villages, each of which has a 10-man defense squad.

The Special Forces detachment that had been based to the north has since moved to Gizab, where its members are training the local defenders and watching over them to prevent any other extrajudicial killings.

Insurgent attacks and intimidation have ceased. “There are still Talibs in the mountains, but they’re in hiding,” said Lalay, who wears a bandolier slung over the shoulder. “They don’t dare to come outside and fight us.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is the continuing sloth and ineffectiveness of the Afghan police charged with patrolling Kandahar. Post correspondent Ernesto Londono reports that American MPs are getting frustrated with the Afghans they are supposed to be mentoring. In a nutshell, they don’t want to patrol, but they do want to take bribes. Such frustrations are nothing new, of course; they recall the difficulties in Iraq in improving police and army performance. That process is just starting in Afghanistan and needs time to mature.

But as the revolt in Daikundi reminds us, our best ally is the Taliban. Their very heavy-handedness and repression alienates the population. The key is to be able to take advantage of that alienation by helping the Afghan people to secure themselves — something that growing numbers of American troops should be able to help with, just as they did in Iraq.

The Washington Post has a pair of stories that illuminate both the challenges and the potential in the fight against the Taliban.

First the good news: in one part of Daikundi province in southern Afghanistan, the locals have risen up against the Taliban and pushed them out of town. The residents of the town of Gizab, about 100 miles north of Kandahar, got sick of the Taliban’s oppressive presence. Post correspondent Rajiv Chandrasekaran writes:

The spark for the rebellion was ignited in mid-April, after Lalay [a storekeeper with one name] received $24,000 in compensation payments from the Afghan government to distribute to the relatives of a dozen villagers — six of whom were members of his extended family — killed by a Taliban-planted roadside bomb. A Taliban commander told him to hand over the money, saying it was against Islam to accept funds from the government. “If it is haram” — forbidden — “for me, then it is haram for you,” Lalay recalled replying.

The insurgents did not relent. They detained his brother and then his father, a tribal leader in the village. It was then that Lalay decided to plot the revolt.

Before long, the villagers were in a full-fledged firefight against the Taliban. There aren’t many coalition troops in Daikundi, but they asked for help, and Australian and U.S. Special Operations soldiers answered the call. The revolt against the Taliban has since progressed:

Lalay’s force has now grown to 300 men. They conduct foot patrols and operate checkpoints in and around Gizab. The revolt also has spread to 14 neighboring villages, each of which has a 10-man defense squad.

The Special Forces detachment that had been based to the north has since moved to Gizab, where its members are training the local defenders and watching over them to prevent any other extrajudicial killings.

Insurgent attacks and intimidation have ceased. “There are still Talibs in the mountains, but they’re in hiding,” said Lalay, who wears a bandolier slung over the shoulder. “They don’t dare to come outside and fight us.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is the continuing sloth and ineffectiveness of the Afghan police charged with patrolling Kandahar. Post correspondent Ernesto Londono reports that American MPs are getting frustrated with the Afghans they are supposed to be mentoring. In a nutshell, they don’t want to patrol, but they do want to take bribes. Such frustrations are nothing new, of course; they recall the difficulties in Iraq in improving police and army performance. That process is just starting in Afghanistan and needs time to mature.

But as the revolt in Daikundi reminds us, our best ally is the Taliban. Their very heavy-handedness and repression alienates the population. The key is to be able to take advantage of that alienation by helping the Afghan people to secure themselves — something that growing numbers of American troops should be able to help with, just as they did in Iraq.

Read Less




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