Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

May 12, 2009

FIRING A GENERAL.... It's extremely unusual for a four-star commander of a war zone to get fired in the middle of the conflict. It's why yesterday's developments, with the Obama administration firing Gen. David McKiernan, were so striking.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced yesterday that he had requested the resignation of the top American general in Afghanistan, Gen. David D. McKiernan, making a rare decision to remove a wartime commander at a time when the Obama administration has voiced increasing alarm about the country's downward spiral.

Gates, saying he seeks "fresh thinking" and "fresh eyes" on Afghanistan, recommended that President Obama replace McKiernan with a veteran Special Operations commander, Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. His selection marks the continued ascendancy of officers who have pressed for the use of counterinsurgency tactics, in Iraq and Afghanistan, that are markedly different from the Army's traditional doctrine.

"We have a new strategy, a new mission and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership is also needed," Gates said at a hastily convened Pentagon news conference.

Just to be clear, in cases like these, "request the resignation" means "fired."

Under the circumstances, the first question tends to be, "What, exactly, did McKiernan to prompt this unusual move?" But that seems to be the wrong way to look at this. "Gen. McKiernan is a good man," said Jack Keane, a retired Army general who advised the Bush administration on the 2007 troop buildup in Iraq. "But he was the wrong man at the wrong time. What the war needs is a new strategy and a new plan."

Based on most of the accounts I've seen, McKiernan hoped to apply conventional tactics to an unconventional conflict. The WaPo report added, "[S]enior officials said McKiernan's leadership was not bold or nimble enough to reenergize a campaign in which U.S. and other NATO troops had reached a stalemate against Taliban insurgents in some parts of Afghanistan. One senior government official involved in Afghanistan policy said McKiernan was overly cautious in creating U.S.-backed local militias, a tactic that Petraeus had employed when he was the top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq."

Slate's Fred Kaplan noted the larger dynamic: "An intellectual battle is now raging within the Army between an 'old guard' that thinks about war in conventional, force-on-force terms and a "new guard" that focuses more on "asymmetric conflicts" and counterinsurgency. McKiernan is an excellent general in the old mold. McChrystal, who rose through the ranks as a special-forces officer, is an excellent general in the new mold."

As McChrystal takes command, he'll be joined by Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez who will now oversee day-to-day management of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Both have extensive experience with counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare.

The period of muddling through in Afghanistan appears to be over.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (28)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

Is the period of ruthlessly bombing innocent Afghan civilians over?

Posted by: paradox on May 12, 2009 at 7:52 AM | PERMALINK

Is the period of ruthlessly bombing innocent Afghan civilians over?

Actually, it surprises me that these bombings, one of which just happened yesterday, never seem to come into the discussion of McKiernan's firing. I'd be willing to bet that Karzai's visit a few days ago was a factor as well.

Posted by: Danp on May 12, 2009 at 8:00 AM | PERMALINK

The Bush administration's arrogance, ignorance and incompetence has screwed up this war so badly that not only is there no good solution, there aren't even any bad solutions. All the possibilities completely suck!

When Bush invaded he wanted to use as few troops as possible, so he made the Afghan warlords our allies. Yet no one suggested that allying ourselves with the same thugs whose rule was so violent and corrupt that the Afghan people invited in the Taliban to get rid of the warlords just might make the Afghan people suspicious of our motives.

The current government of Hamid Karzai is so corrupt that it has support from no one. So once again the Afghan people are turning to the Taliban.

Sadly, I think the only solution that won't require a 20 year effort on our part is for the U.S. military to pull back and let the Karzai government and the Taliban fight it out. Then we destroy what's left of both sides.

Posted by: SteveT on May 12, 2009 at 8:14 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, Mayor Karzai did bring his splendid attire to DC. And more poppies will be placed in Canada for Remembrance Day, next year.

As RickB pointed out on another thread, Generals tend to fight from tactics learned in earlier wars - Conventionally taught Generals are very reluctant to change to asymetrical requirements. He mentioned Westmoreland, who began his learning in Sicily and North Africa. Yes, it is time to no longer require soldiers to wear puttees, have their helmets on at all times and wear ties.

Going into Afghanistan to, apparently, take out Osama and his Taliban co-horts was one thing, staying and floundering flies in the face of history for that region. To believe we can prevail after countless armies have failed, is nothing but Hubris run amok.

Posted by: berttheclock on May 12, 2009 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

The change in commanders in Afghanistan is probably very good. It should sharply increase our chances of succeeding in what America wants to have happen there. Success is possible, but it may not be easily recognized as "winning."

As one who well remembers the Vietnam war, having been commissioned into the Army then and having studied why we got into it in the first place, the real problem that led to the build-up to half a million troops was Gen Westmoreland. He was a conventional war General fighting an unconventional war, and his solution was - more troops - more troops. The book and movie "We were soldiers..." and the battle it depicted showed the genesis of his obsession. America won that one battle of attrition. But the strategy it led to caused us to lose the war.

Westie mousetrapped LBJ by demanding a massive increase in troop strength that allowed him to fight a war of attrition against the Victor Charlie. Westie's timing was perfect. It was when LBJ wanted to pass Medicare and the Civil Rights Bill. Had he not given Westie his troops, LBJ knew that the conservatives would have shut down the Congress and LBJ would have passed zilch. So Lyndon gave Westie his troops to pass his bills. Lyndon knew we couldn't win in Vietnam when he did it.

Shift forward to the Afghanistan conflict. Again, a conventional general fighting an asymmetric war, and his solution has been what? More troops. Conventional war generals don't like the strange apparent lack of discipline of Special Forces. They never have, as the Rangers will tell us from WW II.

Bringing in the Special Forces Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal is critical to winning in Afghanistan. There is no alternative to winning there, as failure in Afghanistan puts the Pakistani nukes at risk. Leaving a conventional forces general in command is too great a risk to accept.

Whether this will lead to "winning" in Afghanistan is not clear. But what IS clear that Afghanistan will NOT be dealt with successfully by using conventional military means. It never has been, and there is no indication that the U.S. and NATO military can change that history. But there is more to this move than that. Think about what it means to relieve a military commander during wartime.

Any time a higher commander relieves a military commander it means two things. One is that the relieved commander was not successful. Two is that it is a symbolic action giving the troops in the command the message that things must change, and that they will be expected to do so. The second reason is frequently as important as the first, and in this case (in my opinion) probably even more so.

The result of this change in command is going to mean a rapid search for a successful strategy and for workable tactics on the ground. The entire Afghan command has just been given the word quite forcefully. Expect to see it taken seriously and responded to quickly.

Posted by: Rick B on May 12, 2009 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

Force on Force is what the USSR basically pushed for in a much larger scale in the 1980s. From what I've read about the war, it didn't work so well for them either.

According to Wiki, McKiernan was from the Armored Mafia.

It's a head scratcher considering that Afghanistan is much more of a Special Forces/Infantry/Air Mobile kind of war that requires much hell bent for leather, two up/one back and emphasis on overwhelming firepower.

Posted by: Former Dan on May 12, 2009 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

"that requires much hell bent for leather, two up/one back and emphasis on overwhelming firepower."

Should be:

that DOES NOT require hell bent for leather, two up/one back and emphasis on overwhelming firepower.

Posted by: Former Dan on May 12, 2009 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

"does not require hell bent for leather, two up/one back......."

Sounds like trying to break out of Anzio or even Salerno. Taking tanks up mined roads through narrow mined valleys. Even the Brits had tanks lead their troops into slaughter with such tactics. Interestingly, one of the reasons the Anzio breakout achieved success was due to placing Sp Ops troopers trained at Camp Harrison, outside Helena, MT and French Mountain soldiers to go up and over the mountains. Finally, Ranger type troops were used properly, instead of being sent to slaughter in direct charges as were Darby's Rangers down the coast of Italy.

Posted by: berttheclock on May 12, 2009 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

"War" and the NFL merge. The game's going poorly, the other side ran up the score ... fire the coach!

The Russians have got the laughing their butts off!

Posted by: Will Flood on May 12, 2009 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

Afghanistan could most likely be Obama and our nations demise and Steve Benen is content to make it out to be part of a some partisan parlor game. Pathetic.

Posted by: grinning cat on May 12, 2009 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

How old are you, Steve? We heard all this shit about brilliant new counter-insurgency strategies in Vietnam, too. It was bullshit then and it's bullshit now. There is only one thing to do about Afghanistan and that is GET OUT NOW.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on May 12, 2009 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

I cannot speak for McChrystal, but I do know LTG Rodriguez and have served under him while in Mosul, Iraw in 2005. David is a very good leader and knows how to utilize various assets under his direction aside from simply being another paratrooper who knows only infantry. When I heard he got the number 2 spot in Afghanistan last night, I was thrilled.

I hope this works out. If Rodriguez is there, my faith is restored.

Posted by: Matthew Bartholomaus on May 12, 2009 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

A few months back there was a blog post somewhere or other on how liberal blogs will become arm chair warriors much like the right wing ones were for the last 6 years. It would be funny if it weren't so tragic.

Steve Benen, cheerleading the meatgrinder. Congratulations.

Posted by: grinning cat on May 12, 2009 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

grinning cat: Afghanistan could most likely be Obama and our nations demise and Steve Benen is content to make it out to be part of a some partisan parlor game.

Where's the partisanship in this post? Be specific. Show your work.

Posted by: shortstop on May 12, 2009 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

And yet, Obama tells us that he would invade Pakistan.

Good work.

I'm sure you liberals will support that, just as you supported the invasion of Iraq. Until you flip-flopped.

Damn, what will you do when The One wants to open a can on Islamabad?

Posted by: McGruber on May 12, 2009 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

It's extremely unusual for a four-star commander of a war zone to get fired in the middle of the conflict.

Actually its quite common.

Lincoln went through a half dozen or so senior generals. Nimitz replaced almost the entire senior staff for the Pacific Fleet after he took over. Senior generals were routinely dimissed or benched in Europe (even Patton sat on the sidelines for nearly a year).

Anytime the army suffers a stinging defeat or an offensive gets bogged down the officers in charge normally end up somewhere else in relatively short order.

What's been odd about our current wars is that its taken longer than normal for failed policies and strategies to be modified or scrapped. Bush hung on to generals becuase they spouted the party line, not because they were effective.

Posted by: thorin-1 on May 12, 2009 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

McGruber,

Hahaha. You're funny.

Maybe if your dear leader didn't divert all those SF troops to Iraqinam then maybe Afghanistan wouldn't be as huge of a fuck up as it is right now.

But then again, facts (like Iraq had no real WMD capabilities and wasn't involved in 9/11) were never your strong suit.

Posted by: Former Dan on May 12, 2009 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

We learned nothing from Vietnam and nothing from Iraq II.

So-called Powell Doctrine

1. Military action should be used only as a last resort and only if there is a clear risk to national security by the intended target.

Problem here is that mission creep led to fighting the Taliban instead of al-Queda, and not for our national security but to advance feminism and destroy Pashtun culture. There were some reports that the Taliban were negotiating on turning over bin Laden, but were rebuffed by Bush.

2. The force, when used, should be overwhelming and disproportionate to the force used by the enemy.

Resources diverted to Iraq.

3. There must be strong support for the campaign by the general public.

Certainly not for the "war on terror" in which Iraq was the "central front." Lukewarm support for the Afghan war comes from lumping the Taliban, Pashtun culture, and al-Queda together as one, which is questionable, and from the minimal sacrifice there in resources.

4. There must be a clear exit strategy from the conflict in which the military is engaged.

There is not even a clear goal, much less an exit strategy. Is the goal beating the Taliban? Is there any serious interest in going after al-Queda in Pah-kee-stahn? Is the goal destroying Pashtun culture and establishing PC feminism and democracy? Is there any realistic hope of real democracy in a corrupt culture, or is this just another PC fantasy?

Posted by: Luther on May 12, 2009 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

ss, Click on the link to the McCain clip. "The period of muddling through is over"? Give me a fucking a break.

Benen has no qualms devoting post after post to torture etc. but seems to be quite content with hundreds/thousands of innocent deaths and blood on the hands of the Obama administration. Drone attacks are up since January 20th and they have something like a 10-15%% success rate. For those following along that means for every "insurgent" the Obama admin kills 10 innocent lives are lost.

Anyway, let's get back to discussing whatever ridiculous bullshit Mike Steele said and the latest from Wanda Sykes.

Posted by: grinning cat on May 12, 2009 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

But then again, facts (like Iraq had no real WMD capabilities and wasn't involved in 9/11) were never your strong suit.

Who said Iraq was involved with 9/11? Not me.

As for WMD: read the book on Saddam Hussein, written by the FBI agent who handled his debriefs.

Hussein readily admits Iraq had WMD capabilities and intentions. He was only waiting for the UN to ease sanctions and then it was back to getting a nuclear weapon.

Facts were never a libs strong suit, either. They were for a war in Iraq before they were against it. They were for the Surge before they realized it was working. Then they work against it (explain that one).

Posted by: McGruber on May 12, 2009 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

"The period of muddling through in Afghanistan appears to be over."

I'll believe that when it stops happening. I've thought from the start that Obama was being a bit too generous with his blank checks when he was promising on focusing the military on Afghanistan. Better that we get out of there entirely.

Instead, we're staying. Nice to see that he's not leaving things the same as they were, but what happens when/if these changes don't work either?

Posted by: Shade Tail on May 12, 2009 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

I am a 100% with grinning cat - I would just add, please read this Esquire article (via Andrew Sullivan) on Torture-master Gen. McChrystal, and then tell me if the right person is running Obama's war.

Posted by: Ohioan on May 12, 2009 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

I am a 100% with grinning cat

On what? grinning cat wasn't arguing for anything. Has it ever done that? Even once?

Posted by: shortstop on May 12, 2009 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

McGruber,

It was clear immediately that the pretexts for invading Iraq were a sham presented to mollify the American voting public as Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld did whatever they wanted with U.S. troops. They have lied about it to this very day, and they will never admit the real reasons for invading Iraq. The limited benefit - if any - that has resulted from the idiocy of invading Iraq will never justify any rational cost/benefit analysis. The threat never existed, and the Intelligence Community knew that. It was the (conservative Republican Fool) decision-makers who rejected the results provided from the Intelligence Community.

But Pakistan? A potentially failed state with real, live proven-to-exist nuclear weapons? Unlike Iraq, there could be real and valid reasons for invading there to protect America. Let's seriously hope the situation cannot be controlled with less drastic methods. Frankly, the military for all its showiness is a blunt force tool with limited effective use. Good diplomatic, economic and Public Relations work in general are a lot more powerful and effective. So is support of NGO's and coordinated international police action. (Backed up, of course, with the potential threat of military force in some cases.)

If you are going to support the invasion of a small country in the future, find one that is a real risk to America, won't you? I'm retired military and I hate it when idiots like you waste the lives and training of my brothers in arms as has been done in Iraq. This case wasn't pure ignorance or surprise, either. This was pure idiocy and ideologically based rejection of the known facts when those facts were carefully presented and explained by pragmatic and well-trained experts.

The price in blood, lives, treasure and the loss of the American Dream that the American nation is paying for conservatism as an ideology will never be worth it. But conservatism is a top-down ideology pushed by a wealthy oligarchy attempting to reshape America from a powerful middle class nation into a Latin American style oligarchy that benefits primarily the wealthy and their (mostly paid or fooled by well-financed propaganda) hanger's on.

I want my powerful middle class America back.

Posted by: Rick B on May 12, 2009 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

I'm retired military and I hate it when idiots like you waste the lives and training of my brothers in arms as has been done in Iraq.

Yes, saving those innocent Iraqi lives were a waste. If you truly are a veteran, then I hate to hear you talk like that. I can't find a veteran who was ashamed of their mission or job in Iraq. Most realized they were, and are, making a difference in Iraq as well as the Middle East.

I guess you think otherwise, based on what? A bunch of Monday-morning QBs who now have the luxury of hindsight to show that the WMD intel was in fact wrong? Even though the whole world bought the WMD intel, as well as liberal pols like Clinton and Gore?

Even after Hussein admitted: yes, I was planning on reinstituting my WMD program.

That's pretty sad. What's really sad is that the only rationale for your decision to support an invasion is whether the President has a D or an R preceding their name.

Posted by: McGruber on May 12, 2009 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, saving those innocent Iraqi lives were a waste.

What about the 100,000+ civilians who were killed as a result of the invasion? Or the countless others who were forced into exile? You don't have very much to say about them.

I can't find a veteran who was ashamed of their mission or job in Iraq.

Look harder. One of the very first US casualties in Iraq was Alyssa Peterson, who took her life because she couldn't reconcile her role as a soldier with the torture practices that she witnessed her colleagues performing on detainees.

I guess you think otherwise, based on what? A bunch of Monday-morning QBs who now have the luxury of hindsight to show that the WMD intel was in fact wrong? Even though the whole world bought the WMD intel, as well as liberal pols like Clinton and Gore?

Right. Who knew that the likes of Ahmed Chalabi & Curveball couldn't be trusted? Anyway, never mind the facts. The world bought into that whole smoking gun-nuclear cloud bullshit. It's their fault.

Posted by: junebug on May 12, 2009 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

McGruber

No flip flopper here, I was against the Iraq invasion from the start. If Bill Clinton had started it, I still would have opposed it.

My opposition wasn't because I love S. Hussein or some pacifist. It was because it was a waste of resources that could be better used elsewhere like Afghanistan or even Pakistan.

Lots of projection in your statement there.

Lots more worse devils than S. Hussein. Why not bomb China? 1.2 Billion living under Communist (!) Tyranny. How about dealing with the Sudan? Or Burma. Or even Saudi Arabia (elements within funded and supplied the majority of the highjackers, if you might recall.) Considering that the majority of those that supported Iraq were against the US being the World's Policeman and nation building yet when the Repub Prez wanted to do it, they saluted and gave them a blank check.

What sucks the most is that blood that was spilled was all FOR NOTHING. You can spin it, wish it or deny all you want, but those soldiers died for nothing and it's on mostly the W Admin's hands.

Posted by: Former Dan on May 12, 2009 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

Interestingly, one of the reasons the Anzio breakout achieved success was due to placing Sp Ops troopers trained at Camp Harrison, outside Helena, MT and French Mountain soldiers to go up and over the mountains.

To clarify, per Rick Atkinson's excellent The Day of Battle: an entire corps of French colonial infantry, led by French officers, broke the Gustav Line in the mountains and allowed the Americans to push on to relieve Anzio and take Rome, with some sturdy work done on the flank around Cassino by Brits, Indians, New Zealanders, and Poles.

Tough bunch, those Africans. Mostly Moslems from the hill-country of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. Too bad we've got such a bad rep in the Islamic world, we might have had a chance to call in some expert help from that quarter.

I know the Special Service brigade held the flank at Anzio, but I don't think they played a major role in the breakout. Scary bunch, though.

Posted by: Midland on May 12, 2009 at 7:21 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly