General Stanley McChrystal has paid a huge price for his decision to give Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings free access to himself and his staff. But he performed a great service for the rest of us. US President Barack Obama fired McChrystal -- his hand-picked choice to command NATO forces in Afghanistan -- for the things that he and his aides told Hastings about the problematic nature of the US-led war effort in Afghanistan. But by acting as he did, McChrystal forced the rest of us to contend with the unpleasant truth not only about the US-led campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan. He told us the unpleasant truth about the problematic nature of the Western way of war at the outset of the 21st century.
Hastings' now famous article, "The Runaway General," told the story of an argument. On the one hand, there are people who want to fight to win in Afghanistan. On the other hand, there are people who are not interested in fighting to win in Afghanistan. Obama - and McChrystal as his general - occupy the untenable middle ground. There they try to split the difference between the two irreconcilable camps. The inevitable end is preordained.
The US and its NATO allies first deployed in Afghanistan in October 2001 with the aim of toppling the Taliban regime and destroying Al Qaida's infrastructure in the country. They have remained in the country ever since with the goal of preventing the Taliban from returning to power.
After McChrystal took command a year ago, he conducted a review of the allied strategy. His revised strategy was based on counter-insurgency methods developed in Iraq. It called for a surge of 40,000 US forces in Afghanistan. It also recommended that NATO train 400,000 Afghan forces who, in the long term, would replace NATO forces once the Taliban was defeated.
McChrystal's strategy was greeted with moans by leading members of Obama's leftist base in the administration and outside it. Led by Vice President Joseph Biden, they offered a counter-strategy. As Biden has explained it, the alternative would involve deploying special forces units and airpower to target the Taliban as it becomes necessary, and otherwise disengage from the country at quickly as possible.
McChrystal and his allies dismissed Biden's strategy as a recipe for disaster. Without a sufficient number of forces on the ground, the US would lose its ability to gather intelligence and so know what targets to attack. Recent reports that the US drone attacks in Pakistan are killing civilians rather than al Qaida and Taliban members indicate just how difficult it is to gather credible, actionable intelligence from a distance.
Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post, where this article first appeared.
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