General McChrystal Takes Command In Afghanistan

On Monday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that he had relieved the current US commander in Afghanistan, General Dave McKiernan, and nominated as his replacement General Stan McChrystal.

Though the absence of a stabilized and cooperative Pakistan and the lack of commitment by the White House to success makes the situation in Afghanistan tenuous, assigning McChrystal to command coalition forces in Afghanistan not only gives us the best chance of success in Afghanistan but also of bringing fear to our enemies working out of Pakistan and to the meddlers from Iran.

To be sure Dan McKiernan had a tough brief, his relief, however, is not totally attributable to the security situation. He’s publicly called for more troops than the Obama administration is prepared to commit and the string of unfortunate airstrikes that killed what are at least colorably civilians has happened on his watch. In light of the clinical level of risk aversion in Gates’s Pentagon and the fact that the White House is looking for a way to leave Afghanistan and blame the loss on President Bush, one had the feeling he was not a good fit with the Administration.

Already the usual cadre of critics are writing the narrative. Poor, pathetic Joe Klein has him as a martyr to Don Rumsfeld’s arrogance and mangles the entire history of the last 5 years in Iraq in order to make the point, it would seem, that the situation is hopeless.

In today’s Washington Post story headlined Manhunter To Take On A Wider Mission we find this bit of commentary:

“McChrystal kills people. Has he ever worked in the counterinsurgency environment? Not really,” said Roger Carstens, a senior nonresident fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a former Special Forces officer.

People will ask, what message are we sending when our high-value-target hunter is sent to lead in Afghanistan?” said a senior military officer at the Pentagon, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Both of these statements are bizarre on their face, one would hope that Carstens was pulled out of a months-long coma to make that statement because otherwise it shows a bonejarring level of ignorance about what McChrystal has done in Iraq. In Iraq, McChrystal hammered out relationships between conventional units, special operations forces, local police, Iraqi Army, former insurgents, and other US government agencies that put al Qaeda and insurgent leaderhip on the run. Similarly the anonymouse in the Pentagon should at least consider that sending the message to your enemies that you are prepared to hunt them down and kill them, wherever they are, is at least useful.

As ill founded as these statements are they are a preview of what McChrystal will face in his confirmation hearing. In addition to killing his nation’s enemies, he is, of course, associated with the Pat Tillman affair and with having some officers under his command being impolite and non-deferential to captured terrorists.

The problems General McChrystal will have to address are enormous. He doesn’t have much time to show results. From what we’ve seen so far, the Administration has no interest in pursing what Barack Obama so disingenuously described as the “central front” in the war on terror. It wants Afghanistan to quietly recede from the headlines before 2010. It has cut the number of troops scheduled to go to Afghanistan and it is busily cutting Defense spending. The recent NATO conference produced no new NATO troops for Afghanistan, so there is no help in sight there.

If any one man can impose his will upon the situation and it is probably McChrystal. He is dynamic, persuasive, and at the same time is not known for sharp elbows. He brings with him a long standing relationship with his boss at CENTCOM, General Dave Petraeus. His deputy commander will be Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, a close friend and Secretary Gates’s current military assistant. By some accounts, McKiernan was not close to Petraeus and did adopt some of Petraeus’s counterinsurgency program.

We are a fan of General McChrystal and wish him well. We don’t envy him taking on this extraordinarily difficult task in the field on behalf of an Administration that simply wants Afghanistan to go away.