Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 22, 2009
WAR: General McChrystal to Obama: More Troops Or I Quit!

If you are old enough to remember the George W. Bush Administration and the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns, you will recall that a favorite theme of critics of Bush's war management was that Bush hadn't listened to Army brass asking for more troops in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. In particular, the Democrats practically made a secular saint of General Eric Shinseki, who supposedly was fired for delivering this message. (The truth is rather different, but the media has been printing the legend for so long it's hardly worth the candle at this late date to argue the point). Gen. Shinseki even ended up being given a Cabinet post in the Obama Administration for little other reason than as a symbol that Obama would break from his predecessor by following his subordinates' recommendations.

Well, as we so often have reason to say of Obama's campaign rhetoric, that was then and this is now. And we are learning that listening to requests from his commanders for more troops is not Obama's strong suit as Commander-in-Chief.

First, Obama scaled back the U.S. troop commitment. Obama during the campaign had promised more troops for Afghanistan, where the U.S. had approximately 36,000 troops and was relying heavily on training the Afghan military to supplement U.S. and NATO forces. In November 2008, Defense Secretary Robert Gates had indicated that some 30,000 troops would be sent to Afghanistan, and the 30,000 figure was requested by General David McKiernan, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan (he reports to General David Petraeus). Instead, Obama reduced the force to some 17,000 additional U.S. counterinsurgency troops - barely more than half what General McKiernan had requested - plus an additional 7,000 troops for other functions. But Obama's national security advisor, General James Jones, bluntly warned the military brass that further requests for more troops would upset the White House:

Now suppose you're the president, Jones told them, and the requests come into the White House for yet more force. How do you think Obama might look at this? Jones asked, casting his eyes around the colonels. How do you think he might feel?

Jones let the question hang in the air-conditioned, fluorescent-lighted room. Nicholson and the colonels said nothing.

Well, Jones went on, after all those additional troops, 17,000 plus 4,000 more, if there were new requests for force now, the president would quite likely have "a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment." Everyone in the room caught the phonetic reference to WTF - which in the military and elsewhere means "What the [expletive]?"

Obama, despite overruling his commander's request for more troops, trumpeted this as a step towards fully supporting the mission in Afghanistan:

"This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires," Obama said.

In a major address on August 17 (Obama gives a "major address" a few times a week) to the VFW, Obama underlined this commitment and the centrality of the Afghan theater:

By moving forward in Iraq, we're able to refocus on the war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's why I announced a new, comprehensive strategy in March -- a strategy that recognizes that al Qaeda and its allies had moved their base from the remote, tribal areas -- to the remote, tribal areas of Pakistan. This strategy acknowledges that military power alone will not win this war -- that we also need diplomacy and development and good governance. And our new strategy has a clear mission and defined goals: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies.

In the months since, we have begun to put this comprehensive strategy into action. And in recent weeks, we've seen our troops do their part. They've gone into new areas -- taking the fight to the Taliban in villages and towns where residents have been terrorized for years. They're adapting new tactics, knowing that it's not enough to kill extremists and terrorists; we also need to protect the Afghan people and improve their daily lives. And today, our troops are helping to secure polling places for this week's election so that Afghans can choose the future that they want.

Now, these new efforts have not been without a price. The fighting has been fierce. More Americans have given their lives. And as always, the thoughts and prayers of every American are with those who make the ultimate sacrifice in our defense.

As I said when I announced this strategy, there will be more difficult days ahead. The insurgency in Afghanistan didn't just happen overnight and we won't defeat it overnight. This will not be quick, nor easy. But we must never forget: This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is a -- this is fundamental to the defense of our people.

And going forward, we will constantly adapt to new tactics to stay ahead of the enemy and give our troops the tools and equipment they need to succeed. And at every step of the way, we will assess our efforts to defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies, and to help the Afghan and Pakistani people build the future that they seek.

As for McKiernan, he was unceremoniously sacked in May, replaced by General Stanley McChrystal, who had worked for Gen. Petraeus in carrying out the counterinsurgency "surge" in Iraq. Was McKiernan being punished for requesting more troops than Obama was willing to provide? Was his replacement a power play by Gen. Petraeus to put his own man in charge? From an outsider's remove, we can't know, we can only look at what happened next.

And what happened was that on August 30, Gen. McChrystal delivered a similar message to that of his predecessor: the latest renewed Taliban offensive requires more American troops to prevent a Taliban victory in the war the Taliban started with us on September 11, 2001:

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warns in an urgent, confidential assessment of the war that he needs more forces within the next year and bluntly states that without them, the eight-year conflict "will likely result in failure," according to a copy of the 66-page document obtained by The Washington Post.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal says emphatically: "Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near-term (next 12 months) - while Afghan security capacity matures - risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible."

At the liberal Atlantic, D.B. Grady finds McChrystal's message "unambiguous" (H/T):

Some Afghans took us seriously. And the value of an American promise is now being weighed. If we run out the clock, if we rescind our commitment, regardless of president or party or poll, the world will be watching and they, too, will take away "lessons learned."

The McChrystal assessment is an echo of Winston Churchill's message to President Roosevelt. "Give us the tools and we will finish the job."

This is President Obama's FDR moment.

General Petraeus, for his part, took to the London Times on Friday to echo McChrystal's assessment of the situation and the importance of the mission:

General Stan McChrystal, the Commander of Nato's International Security Assistance Force, who has spent most of his career since 9/11 leading the US's most elite counterterrorist element, the Joint Special Operations Command, is employing a comprehensive, counterinsurgency campaign. He is the first to recognise not just the extraordinary capabilities but also the limitations of counterterrorism forces in Afghanistan.

In addition to our military operations we are helping the Afghan Government to combat the corruption that has undermined the legitimacy of certain Afghan institutions. We are also working hard to accelerate the development of the Afghan security forces. And we are working to disrupt narcotics trafficking by promoting agricultural alternatives and developing the infrastructure to help Afghan farmers to get their products to market.

But we need to be realistic in recognising that the campaign will require a sustained, substantial commitment. Many tough tasks loom before us - including resolution of the way ahead after the recent election, which obviously has been marred by allegations of fraud. The challenges in Afghanistan clearly are significant. But the stakes are high. And, while the situation unquestionably is, as General McChrystal has observed, serious, the mission is, as he has affirmed, still doable.

So, is the Obama Administration keeping its promise to listen to the brass? Word came down yesterday that the White House has indeed had the predicted "WTF" moment, and the Administration is pushing McChrystal to shut up and back off:

The Pentagon has told its top commander in Afghanistan to delay submitting his request for additional troops, defense officials say, amid signs that the Obama administration is rethinking its strategy for combating a resurgent Taliban
.

+++

Military officials familiar with the matter say [McChrystal's] report lays out several options, including one that seeks roughly 40,000 reinforcements, which would push the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan to more than 100,000 for the first time.

But the commander has been told to delay submitting the troop request to the Pentagon at the direction of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and other top civilian officials, according to defense officials.

The administration's call for a further strategic review - which official said could take weeks - comes as military commanders in the field say the campaign is running out of time and U.S. congressional and public support for the war is flagging.

The military commanders are reportedly distressed at this foot-dragging and wondering if Obama is really committed to victory as he claims. A split is widening between them and the civilian leadership, while John Kerry - who was so certain five years ago what had to be done in Afghanistan - now says we need time to figure out what's going on in a war that's now entering its ninth year.

In fact, so deep is the split that word is circulating that General McChrystal is threatening to resign if he doesn't get the troops he feels he needs. H/T. Which, if it came to pass, would mean having to pick a third NATO commander for Afghanistan in Obama's first year as Commander-in-Chief. Even House Democratic leadership is alarmed enough to want to hear McChrystal tell his side of the story:

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is backing Republican calls for Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the ground commander in Afghanistan, to testify before Congress about troop increases and strategy shifts in the war.

"I think it would be useful at some point in time for Gen. McChrystal to share with Congress, both the Senate and the House, his views and proposals," Hoyer told reporters Tuesday morning.

Who is right? It is true, as Churchill Clemenceau once said, that war is too important to be left to the generals. It is also true, as wartime leaders have known since time immemorial, that generals always want more troops, the troops always want more equipment, and both always want more weapons. Civilian leadership can't blindly follow; it has to lead. And in fact, in Afghanistan as in Iraq, there are always competing considerations between adding more troops to increase our capabilities, and keeping a lighter footprint to avoid antagonizing the locals and to allow the indigenous military to shoulder some responsibilities. The critics on the Left - Obama and Kerry included - never, ever gave a moment's thought to these considerations in criticizing the Bush Administration.

But in Barack Obama we have not only a president who came to office pledging to pay more attention to his military leaders, and not only one who keeps insisting that the mission in Afghanistan is one of urgent importance to U.S. national security, but also a man with absolutely zero prior experience as an executive, no military service record, and zero experience with national security issues. One might reasonably expect him to permit an open exchange of views by his commanders and to give very, very serious weight to their opinions, rather than telling people to withdraw recommendations and running through generals like George Steinbrenner through managers. Instead, it looks as if the only reaction a serious person can have to watching Obama's management of the military is Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 12:20 PM | War 2007-12 | Comments (30) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Awesome post. Well said.

Posted by: Tom at September 22, 2009 3:42 PM

War in Afghanistan is like the Drug War.
Lots will talk about "how we HAVE to win", but the real objective is to line the pockets of the profiteers.
Wars are a big money-maker for those connected to the war-hawks. Same as it ever was.

BTW, Crank, all those jeniuses with "national security experience" were absolutely sure the Iraq War would last less than 6 months and cost less than $15 Billion.
We'll leave it to you and your pals in the "liberal media" to continue to take those clowns seriously.

Posted by: Berto at September 22, 2009 3:45 PM

Couple of things you left out
1. Force balance
2. Troop rest, in case you have not noticed our guys have been deployed quite a bit over the last eight years.

But, since you also have zero military experience I will believe your opinion of another guys opinion.

Funny how during the campaign you ripped Obama for saying he would lob more hell-fire's into Pakistan and now that that plan has had some success you are quiet. Will they get all the troops requested nope. Will there be a compromise yes. As, history has taught us you can not win a insurgency war with troops only.
Also, the bigger problem is Karzi (who put that guy in power?) and the rigged election. No matter how many troops you add that can't be fixed.

Posted by: javaman at September 22, 2009 4:05 PM

It seems to me that Gates and Jones really have to be the ones Obama can count on to tell him things he potentially doesn't want to hear. If they aren't willing to do that, or he's not willing to listen, then he's almost guaranteed to make bad choices. It's important to listen to the generals, but if in command, they'll always say then need more, and if considered for command, they'll always say they can make due with less.

Posted by: Jerry at September 22, 2009 4:49 PM

Jerry is right about the attitude of the commanders. See, war, Vietnam, for a recent historical case study.

Bush listened too much to them and had no one in the Defense management of the White House to tell him what he did not want to hear. http://capitalgainsandgames.com/blog/bruce-bartlett/1119/bush-inside

Posted by: Magrooder at September 22, 2009 5:44 PM

Off-topic, but just wanted to mention how much I heart the ACORN-haters.
They're in the midst of passing a bill that will virtually de-fund the entire military-industrial complex. (Hey Crank, I just found an easy way to pay for single-payer healthcare for 330 million American citizens.)
Jesus, Allah, Flying Spaghetti Monster, whoever---I heart your sense of humor, pal. Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Berto at September 22, 2009 8:34 PM

Berto-no bill is passing as usual you are giving yourself a proctological exam.

Man isn't it funny what a total zero obama is-can't get anything passed with large majorities in both houses, approval rating dropping like a stone, the EU, Russia, China, North Korea just laughing at his (and yours) foreign policy. record deficits, ACORN, NEA, Van jones-my god it is sort of funny that no one could predict that such an empty suit would be such a joke. O h wait

It is so fun just slapping you around at will-keep coming back like the good bottom that you are.

Posted by: dch at September 23, 2009 12:02 AM

You are making too much out of too little:

A senior Pentagon official says the administration has asked for the reprieve so it can complete a review of the U.S.-led war effort. “We have to make sure we have the right strategy” before looking at additional troop requests, the official said. “Things have changed on the ground fairly considerably.”

You have three pieces of news: asking a general to wait a few weeks before making troop recommendations, reports of generals grumbling about not enough troops and and possible rethink of strategy. I don't know how that all adds up to a general condemnation of Obama's treatment of the military and a failure to "listen to the brass."

I'll wait to see what he does strategy-wise and what he decides regarding troop levels before making any judgment. This kind of on-the-fly, criticism-of-the-process analysis goes nowhere with me.

Posted by: MVH at September 23, 2009 8:58 AM

"This kind of on-the-fly, criticism-of-the-process analysis goes nowhere with me."

I thought that is why people came here. And disgruntled Mets chatter.

Posted by: jim at September 23, 2009 9:53 AM

If we rush in 20k in new troops what message does that send after an election that was full of fraud? A move like that would be a PR boom for the Taliban and any one else opposed to our troops. Go to see you left that factor out of you 20,000 word opus.

Posted by: javaman at September 23, 2009 9:59 AM

javaman, my point here is not my military opinion - I'm just as unqualified as Obama on that score - but the judgment of both McKiernan and McChrystal and the fact that Obama is treating their views in precisely the opposite manner he claimed he would.

You guys always claim that killing the bad guys will make us look bad. As I said in the piece, I don't downplay the fact that we have to balance the consideration of keeping our military footprint limited to avoid antagonizing the local population, and I think that was always a consideration in why we didn't have more troops in Iraq, as well. But one thing that's universally true about public opinion about wars is that prolonging the agony always ends up as the worst option. If more troops will mean less Taliban, in the long run we'll take the short-term PR hit to get there.

Jerry, I agree that Gates and Jones have to take some of the blame here as well. I don't suspect that Jones is long for his job. And Gates is what he has always been: a low-key, make-the-trains-run-on-time functionary, not a guy with a lot of independent judgment or any interest in selling the public on anything. That was probably what Bush needed after Rumsfeld, but in the long haul it's not an ideal profile for a Pentagon chief when decisions need to be made and justified.

Posted by: Crank at September 23, 2009 10:10 AM

We are either in it to win it or we should get our guys (and NATO) the heck out of there.

Posted by: largebill at September 23, 2009 11:20 AM

largebill,
You are correct, of course, but what about the Right-wing vanity project? You know, cutting and running* will make us look weak.

* I believe the term cutting and running is trademarked by the estate of Ronald Reagan--our most cuttingest and runningest President evah..

Posted by: Berto at September 23, 2009 11:27 AM

dch,
I don't know if I'd term that "funny". After all, Obama is the President of the self-proclaimed greatest country in the history of mankind. The one that spends about twice as much per citizen for healthcare than any other industrialized nation--but still ranks about 37th in the world. Like you, I realize that the US isn't good enough or smart enough to figure out how to provide better healthcare to it's citizens for less cost, hence one of the reasons the rest of the world is laughing so hard. You still left out the best part of the joke: we attacked and occupied Iraq to show the world how strong we are, and all it showed the world was how stupid we are.
Obam is just the latest in a long line of empty suits (Ronald Reagan, anyone?) elected by the citizens to assure the joke is on them.
Clap louder, dch. Clap louder.

Posted by: Berto at September 23, 2009 11:40 AM

dch,
I realize you called me a "bottom" to throw Crank's readers off the scent, but if you keep it up I might have to slap the dick of your corporate masters out of your mouth.

Posted by: Berto at September 23, 2009 11:47 AM

javaman:

you ripped Obama for saying he would lob more hell-fire's into Pakistan

He never said anything of the sort. You're being dishonest. You want him to be able to lay claim to a strategy that has had some effect but he can't.

I have no idea why you felt you could slip that one past us.

Posted by: spongeworthy at September 23, 2009 12:51 PM

My problem with Obama's statements on Pakistan was that our ability to operate militarily in Pakistan has depended on the Pakistani government not officially acknowledging that we were doing so. Obama was stupid to shoot his mouth off about it.

Posted by: Crank at September 23, 2009 12:57 PM

Once again Crank you are missing the point. There are more factors than adding troops to solve this problem. Lets say we add the 20k the Generals want. That may limit the collateral damage but it does not address the fraud filled election. Which could and would be used by the Taliban to say we are propping up Karzi and we are not selling what we promising. There are other aspects to war besides troops. To be honest in this augment you have to address the Karzi election. If you avoid that issue your 50,000 word opus is not even worth posting.

Posted by: javaman at September 23, 2009 1:30 PM

This may be the reason for the rethink:

CIA chief Panetta says that the Taliban fighters of 2009 are not necessarily the same as the Taliban of 2001, and that in fact there is no single Taliban. He says there are different groups, usually along tribal lines, fighting for different reasons.

"It's a mixed bag. You don't have just one brand of Taliban," Panetta noted. "The ones that we're most concerned with, however, are those that are obviously engaging in military action, are taking American lives, and are operating in a way that we see as much more effective and much more efficient in terms of warfare. And that's what concerns us, it concerns the president of the United States."

Panetta says the Taliban attacking NATO troops are still getting help from across the border in Pakistan.

"Well, we think that they continue to receive encouragement from al-Qaida in Pakistan, and they continue to receive encouragement from the terrorists who are located in Pakistan, and that because of that relationship we view them very much as a threat to peace in Afghanistan," Panetta said.

http://www.voanews.com/english/2009-09-18-voa40.cfm

Posted by: MVH at September 23, 2009 1:44 PM

This may be the reason for the rethink:

CIA chief Panetta says that the Taliban fighters of 2009 are not necessarily the same as the Taliban of 2001, and that in fact there is no single Taliban. He says there are different groups, usually along tribal lines, fighting for different reasons.

"It's a mixed bag. You don't have just one brand of Taliban," Panetta noted. "The ones that we're most concerned with, however, are those that are obviously engaging in military action, are taking American lives, and are operating in a way that we see as much more effective and much more efficient in terms of warfare. And that's what concerns us, it concerns the president of the United States."

Panetta says the Taliban attacking NATO troops are still getting help from across the border in Pakistan.

"Well, we think that they continue to receive encouragement from al-Qaida in Pakistan, and they continue to receive encouragement from the terrorists who are located in Pakistan, and that because of that relationship we view them very much as a threat to peace in Afghanistan," Panetta said.

Source - Voice of America interview with Panetta

Posted by: MVH at September 23, 2009 1:45 PM

javaman - Ah, the old "I'll criticize the post you didn't write instead of the one you did" shtick.

Where did I say that troop levels are the only issue we are dealing with in Afghanistan? What I don't buy is the idea that we have to freeze the military operation in its tracks whenever there's a political angle to deal with.

MVH - I don't really think any of that is new. Afghan politics have always been like that.

Posted by: Crank at September 23, 2009 2:41 PM

My post was not about what you did not write. My post was about what you omitted to prove your criticism of Obama. To omit Karzi from any detailed backseat driving of the Afghan policy is just dishonest. Another thing you left off was the complaints from our military trainers about the high level of illiteracy of the Afghan troops in leadership positions. But, hey why weigh all the factors when making a detailed argument if you already have a conclusion before you start.

Here are two links you should have sourced:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125200842406984303.html

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-tc-nw-afghan-intel-0919-0920sep20%2C0%2C371372.story

Posted by: javaman at September 23, 2009 4:49 PM

My post was not about what you did not write. My post was about what you omitted to prove your criticism of Obama. To omit Karzi from any detailed backseat driving of the Afghan policy is just dishonest. Another thing you left off was the complaints from our military trainers about the high level of illiteracy of the Afghan troops in leadership positions. But, hey why weigh all the factors when making a detailed argument if you already have a conclusion before you start.

Here are two links you should have sourced:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125200842406984303.html

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-tc-nw-afghan-intel-0919-0920sep20%2C0%2C371372.story

Posted by: javaman at September 23, 2009 5:36 PM

Obama was stupid to shoot his mouth off about it.

I'm sure he was aware of the implications, but he couldn't resist looking so forceful up there.

I blame him for couching it in terms of an invasion rather than "partnering". And for pretending what he actually favors isn't exactly what we'd been doing.

Actually, I can find no redeeming qualities in his blather whatever. Where was Totus?

Posted by: spongeworthy at September 24, 2009 9:05 AM

My post was not about what you did not write. My post was about what you omitted to prove your criticism of Obama. To omit Karzi from any detailed backseat driving of the Afghan policy is just dishonest. Another thing you left off was the complaints from our military trainers about the high level of illiteracy of the Afghan troops in leadership positions. But, hey why weigh all the factors when making a detailed argument if you already have a conclusion before you start.

Posted by: javaman at September 24, 2009 10:49 AM

javaman, quit beclowning yourself. Your entire bone to pick here is that Crank didn't say, "Afghanistan is hard!"

That's pretty well understood.

Posted by: spongeworthy at September 24, 2009 11:11 AM

"My post was not about what you did not write. My post was about what you omitted"

Hahahahaha. You didn't say six, you said half a dozen!

And how, pray tell, does the literacy level of Afghan commanders establish that we should ignore the American generals' recommendation that more troops are needed?

Posted by: Crank at September 24, 2009 11:27 AM

"MVH - I don't really think any of that is new. Afghan politics have always been like that."

So, basically, you are saying that Panetta is either (1) dead wrong or (2) lying for Obama?? If the answer is number #1, why would you know more about the structure of the Afghan Taliban than the CIA? If it's number 2, it's sheer speculation.

Again, all you have here is request that the general DELAY his troop request. Not deny, delay. The rest of this is just guesswork.

Posted by: MVH at September 24, 2009 12:11 PM

Six of this, Half dozen of the other...
The point is that place is a giant cluster F%&$. But what is sad is you post 20,000 words in the guise of being detailed and well reasoned. But, upon closer inspection you left off many key details to prove and keep your forgone conclusion. Crank, that is just plan intellectually dishonest. What would you Lawyers call it when evidence is intentionally excluded? You are a better blogger than that.

Posted by: javaman at September 24, 2009 2:05 PM

Java,

"Crank, that is just plan intellectually dishonest."

That's going too far. Disagree with it if you want, as I have, but this post is nowhere near dishonest. Omitting information that you don't believe is relevant is not dishonesty. That word gets thrown around way too much.

It will be a better debate when Obama makes a determination on all of this, which is why I'm surprised at seeing a big post on this now.

Posted by: MVH at September 24, 2009 3:16 PM
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