Online, Student Articles — July 25, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Petraeus Replaces McChrystal in Afghanistan, What Does it Mean for the Prospects of American Success?

By Darcey Groden –

President Barack Obama fired General Stanley McChrystal on June 23, 2010, following a controversial interview with Rolling Stone.  Just hours later, President Obama appointed General David Petraeus, head of United States Central Command and architect of the 2007 surge in Iraq, to replace General McChrystal in leading the Afghan war.  Despite the change in leadership, no change is expected in the current war strategy.

The Interview

General McChrystal’s termination was set in motion by his decision to grant an interview to the magazine Rolling Stone.  Sources close to General McChrystal told Rolling Stone that General McChrystal thought President Obama to be “uncomfortable and intimidated” by senior military officials and called a one-on-one meeting between President Obama and General McChrystal a “photo op” in which President Obama “didn’t seem very engaged” with the issues at hand.

General McChrystal’s top staff members did not appear in the most flattering light themselves.  For example, the Rolling Stone reported that some senior staff members called themselves “Team America,” from the movie Team America: World Police, a film parody about fictional paramilitary police who attempt to save the world from a terrorist plot led by Kim Jong-il.  These staff members also made numerous derisive comments not only about President Obama, but also Vice President Joe Biden; Ambassador Karl Eikenberry; Richard C. Holbrooke, the special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan; and James L. Jones, Jr., the National Security Advisor.

But the Economist, at least, has argued in a post-firing article that General McChrystal’s frankness had been a good thing.  General McChrystal was interested in alternative viewpoints and “happily took the press into his confidence.”  The mistake was to include Rolling Stone in that confidence.  The Rolling Stone article “seemed to include every unguarded sentence he, or his aides, might have uttered.”  Nevertheless, the Economist agreed that General McChrystal was worthy of dismissal.

Can Petraeus Win the War in Afghanistan?: An Editorial Roundup

Answering this question first requires a step back: what does it mean to win the war in Afghanistan?  The opinions below discuss the strategy for fighting the war in Afghanistan, but don’t explain what a “win” would look like.  Is it routing out the Taliban?  Creating a strong democracy and a growing economy—and if so, what is the threshold for success?  Whatever a win is, some of the top newspapers are pessimistic about the chances that the United States will achieve it.

The New York Times paints a gloomy picture.  Currently, the war in Afghanistan is going poorly.  NYT notes that to win, General Petraeus will need “a dose of good fortune” in addition to the counterinsurgency strategy that he will implement.  The problem is not just the insurgents themselves, but also the morale of America’s own troops, who are angry over restrictions on using firepower.  Nor are the troops the only ones unhappy with the nuts-and-bolts of the war—senior officials in the Obama administration hold differing views on how the war in Afghanistan should be fought.

The Economist is even more pessimistic.  According to the editors, the problem is not General Petraeus, but rather that the current counter-insurgency strategy devised jointly by Generals McChrystal and Petraeus—the strategy that General Petraeus is likely going to continue—would take more time and effort than America and NATO are willing to give.  One senior NATO official estimated that it would take 13 years to win a counter-insurgency campaign.  The counterinsurgency campaign is only in year two and President Obama has promised to start withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan in July 2011.  A troop shortage will be compounded by the expected withdrawal of 4,500 Dutch and Canadian troops over the next year.

Many of a roundup of foreign policy experts at the Washington Post agree: General Petraeus is good, but something else needs to give if the United States is to stand a chance of winning the war in Afghanistan.  Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, believes that Ambassador Eikenberry and Mr. Holbrooke need to go because “they have put politics above the mission and ego above all.”  Kurt Volker, ambassador to NATO from 2008 to 2009, believes the July 2011 pullout date needs to be scrapped because it signals doubt of American commitment to winning.  Zalmay Khalilzad, United States ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration, argues among other changes that General Petraeus will require civil-military cooperation and better relations with the Afghan government and people.

Indeed, success might be entirely outside of American hands.  The Los Angeles Times has argued that it will be difficult to defeat the Taliban as long as it can depend on supply routes and sanctuaries in Pakistan.  In turn, Pakistan’s willingness to cooperate on this front is a political consideration—Pakistan would like to have more influence in Afghanistan than India does—that is out of General Petraeus’s hands.

Image courtesy of the London Telegraph.

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