We asked the old lady why she didn’t kill any of the many flies that were constantly evident in her kitchen.
“Boys,” she said, “if I kill one of them, ten more show up at its funeral.”
President Obama did the right thing in firing (aka accepting the General’s resignation) Stanley McChrystal after the Rolling Stone article came out. Had he allowed McChrystal to remain in command in Afghanistan, Obama would have lost the respect of the military’s rank and file (as well as its officer corps).
Anyone who has served in uniform (full disclosure: I did four years in the Air Force) knows that you don’t sound off like McChrystal did (or allow your staff to do so, as he also did) and expect to maintain your command status. If Obama had left McChrystal in place, he would have been disregarded and disrespected, if not out-right disobeyed, for his remaining time as commander-in-chief.
What is puzzling about the whole affair is not what McChrystal was thinking. He’s now yesterday’s news, and no one (other than a few boring historians) will care about him a year from now. (This was not a Harry Truman-Douglas MacArthur battle of wills, no matter what the talking heads are currently saying.)
What is puzzling is why Obama insists he will continue the policy McChrystal was apparently so frustrated with. It was a bad policy when Obama decided on it, and it is certainly looking no better now; in fact, it’s looking considerably worse.
Just to review a little of the background, let’s recall that Obama ran for office as a quasi-dove/quasi-hawk, claiming to have always opposed the war in Iraq while asserting that the real battle had to be in Afghanistan. The liberal wing of his party heard only his position on Iraq, even though he was equally vocal (and condemnatory of his predecessor) regarding his views on Afghanistan.
And sure enough, on taking office, he quickly announced a plan to withdraw all combat forces from Iraq (essentially adopting the Bush plan) by this September. That plan is still in effect. (At least it hasn’t been publicly repudiated.)
But Afghanistan was more perplexing for Obama, and he took the better part of his first year in office to come up with a plan. He was said to have considered all suggested options (presumably even including complete withdrawal) before settling on the counter-insurgency surge that is currently in place.
The plan/policy that he remains completely committed to is to build up the political and military infrastructure of Afghanistan so that it can take on the primary responsibility of quelling the Taliban threat and keeping al Qaeda out of the country. McChrystal was chosen to lead the way because he was considered the very best the uniformed forces had available at counter-insurgency warfare. And he even got almost all of what he asked for, netting 30 thousand more combat troops (he asked for 40).
And yet, a little over six months into the mission, McChrystal was apparently despondent enough about the prospects for success to tell (and let his staff augment the telling) of his complete disregard for the president and his military advisors.
He had good reason to be despondent. Afghanistan is currently “ruled” by a corrupt president (Hamid Karzai) who one day says he would welcome the Taliban back and on another sounds not all that supportive of the U.S. policy that is keeping him in power.
Except that he has very little power to start with, since the country is largely controlled by local warlords and strongmen who engage in illegal drug sales (opium, mostly) and otherwise deal with whoever or whatever makes them richer.
In other words, Afghanistan is ungoverned and ungovernable. Karzai controls Kabul, courtesy of the United States military, and the rest of the country goes its own way.
Think about this fact for a moment: Afghanistan has a total annual GNP of around $14 billion. The United States is pouring $100 billion a year into it, and has been for nine years now. What do we have to show for our money? Indeed, what do the Afghans have to show for it? True, they aren’t under Taliban rule, but won’t they be again whenever we leave?
The original reasons for going to war in Afghanistan have long since faded into obscurity. Then, it was because the Taliban government had given safe haven to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda organization. Here’s a news flash: we won that war. The Taliban was defeated in short order and al Qaeda, no longer feeling welcome, fled the scene, only to relocate in anarchic Pakistan and other safe havens in the region.
So, why are we still there? Presumably, Obama has intelligence to the effect that a reinvigorated Taliban in Afghanistan would again provide a safe haven for al Qaeda, thereby posing a threat to the U.S. homeland and to its interests (i.e., oil) in the region.
But so what? Isn’t the same potential scenario brewing in Pakistan?
And then there is the impact of the entire U.S. military effort in that part of the world. Case in point: the recent guilty plea entered in New York’s criminal courts by one Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber. Mr. Shahzad, in a remarkable courtroom confession, took complete responsibility for his failed attempt. He was motivated entirely by the U.S. military’s presence and actions in the Muslim world.
This man was not an al Qaeda terrorist. He was a recently naturalized American citizen who had become infuriated by the killing of innocent Muslims by drone missile attacks and by the kind of military assaults that claim innocent lives in every war. It just so happens that in Iraq and Afghanistan, those innocent lives tend to be Muslims.
And so we have the flies in the kitchen scenario. We kill one and we create ten more. Terrorists are not born; they are made. We’re making a bunch of them.
Get out of Afghanistan, Mr. President. Right now, you’re looking a lot more like Lyndon Johnson than you probably want to.