Behind the Scenes of the Afghan War Debate

AfghanistanI know, I've been obsessed with the debate about Afghan war strategy and whether to escalate our commitment there lately, but I make no apologies. It's important! Here's a review of what happened before the McChrystal report was leaked last week.

At the end of August, when General Stanley McChrystal submitted his report to the Pentagon, the McClatchy D.C. bureau reported this:
Obama now feels that McChrystal and his superior, Army Gen. David Petraeus, the head of the Central Command, are pressuring him to commit still more troops to Afghanistan, a senior military official said. The official said that retired Marine Gen. James Jones, Obama's national security adviser, told McChrystal last month not to ask for more troops, but that McChrystal went ahead anyway and indicated in interviews that he may need more.
[That interview, published on August 10, was an update to my first post on Afghanistan.]

Just what does "senior military official" mean? I can't believe that it is someone actually in the military, I'd guess it refers to someone at the Pentagon, but in any case it must be a civilian member of the administration. And like other anonymous leaks, it should be taken with a large grain of salt, but even looking at it as pure spin, it's an accusation that the military is in opposition to their Commander-in-Chief. Remember, General Jones is retired, he's a civilian now. As President Obama's National Security Adviser, he speaks for the President. If this report is true, McChrystal disobeyed the civilian leadership of the military. Why didn't that story have legs?

Another source says that General David Petraeus is pulling the strings on the contents of the report:
Stanley McChrystal, in my estimate, is not a political general, as Petraeus undoubtedly is. He appears to be a fine soldier, a great fighting man, but not overly intelligent. It was a mistake to appoint him to a position where he had a role in making policy instead of just implementing it. It would not surprise me if this was a clever maneuver by Gen Petraeus: getting McChrystal put in the Afghanistan command, with his first task to recommend the policy for that war, and suitable advisers made available to him to draft that policy. Somewhere down the line McChrystal was sold on COIN (probably as the recipe that turned the Iraq war around, even though it did nothing of the sort); he is that intense type who commit themselves totally to things once they are convinced. Thus, Petraeus's preferred policy is put forward by McChrystal, a general who would probably quit if it wasn't adopted, while the former sits back and waits to see which would be the best way to jump at the right moment.
Who are those suitable advisers? All of our top military minds and experts on Afghanistan, no doubt? Well, no. Spencer Ackerman reports that they were our top think tank armchair warriors:
[Stephen Biddle, one of the advisers,] clarifies that it wasn’t so much that they advised the review. A group of about a dozen civilian experts, mostly from Washington think tanks, were the review. When Defense Secretary Bob Gates asked McChrystal to send him an assessment of the war’s fortunes and the resources necessary to turn it around, the civilian experts were flown to Baghdad to conduct the “overall assessment,” Biddle said. Officers from the USFOR-A headed “subtopic” groups of “particular interest to Gen. McChrystal like civilian-casualty minimization, strategic communication and so forth.” But the band of (mostly) Beltway think-tankers were the review.
I really hope he meant Kabul. Ackerman lists the elite group, which includes such paragons of the neocons (catchy, isn't it?) as Andrew Exum, Anthony Cordesman, and Fred and Kimberly Kagan. Apparently one Kagan wasn't enough. Ackerman has two other posts on the review panel.

H/T on Ackerman's posts for Marc Lynch, who comments on the odd optics of the 'strategic review'. Odd indeed. Finally, the political context of war is discussed at length by Glenn Greenwald. Okay, that's the back story. The current machinations will be the subject of the next Afghan post.

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