Small Wars Journal

So what now?

Interesting if predictable developments today with GEN McChrystal being relieved

by President Obama.  Er, I'm sorry, resigning.  And certainly an

interesting move with GEN Petraeus being promoted, er, demoted, er,

reasssigned - yeah, that's it, reassigned.  That strikes me as a wise move,

all the more so because of the explicit statement that the rest of the CENTCOM job

will not be his, too.  It's not like that's an easy enough job alone and we

need to get more mileage out of that particular 4 star billet.

I also think the fairly short press statement today was delivered fairly well

by President Obama.  I'm sorry, he just looked so whiny and bureaucratic doing

his Gulf "War" address, particularly in Jon Stewart's

commission accomplished send up, that I was very anxious about today.

But the emphasis in today's address on the assertion of civilian control over

the military struck me as very ironic in this particular time and in this particular

war.  One of the key thrusts of the

Rolling Stone article

is the issue of who is really in control of the civilian side of things -- who was

GEN McChrystal's counterpart, and was there coherent execution there?

Anne Flaherty reports:

"They brought somebody in to be a hard-nosed realist," said Anthony Cordesman,

a national security analyst with close ties to the Defense Department. "You

brought somebody in to get the job done after eight years of neglect and failure.

You brought somebody in basically to fight his way through the bureaucratic

and organizational barriers."

I do not wish to naively grab the 3rd rail of Goldwater-Nichols II, and God bless

Secretary Clinton for her stability during the Afghanistan review, but are there too many

cooks spoiling that pudding?  Now that we have GEN Petraeus back in the frying

pan, the next big question, perhaps even the bigger one, is who will be our

Ambassador Crocker?

Grabbing at another nugget in all the news, another thing that strikes me here

is that GEN McChrystal reviewed the Rolling Stone article in advance and

didn't push back

You can make much of his limited inside-the-beltway experience, but he is too savvy,

detailed, and just plain brilliant for me to believe this is all a surprise to him

and I can only assume some sort of oddly Machiavellian machinations behind how this

played out.  And if there is a point out there, I suspect it is less about

civilian control of the military, and more about civilian control of civilians and

the broader issue of the expeditionary fitness of our executive and legislative


I am sorry Dennis Hopper did not live to see the day when Rolling Stone generated

such a catharsis in the foreign policy apparatus of the United States.  Thank

you, GEN McChrystal, for you service. Thanks in advance, GEN Petraeus, for more

to come.  Ambassador Crocker -- aren't you a little bored in that

Aggie job?



No edits were made above, but please disregard the bit about a Machiavellian

moment.  That hinged upon my perception of a "damn the torpedoes" moment from

Politico's now-discredited reporting of GEN McChrystal's pre-publication blessing

of the RS article.  I re-canted in


below as that came to light to be fabricated and untrue.  Be sure to read

this article to see just what was checked, and how little one could interpret

from that.  Also more reaction

here, and lots of places.


I think July 2011 is the crux of the issue: it impacts everything that McC was trying to do with respect to clearing, holding and building. Watching from afar, I'm increasingly of the opinion that the GIRoA is incapable of developing governance capacity, so the July 2011 milestone may become the point at which we switch from a COIN effort to a CT effort.

Assuming that GEN Petraeus continues to execute the campaign plan that he approved as CENTCOM, he's going to prosecute the conditions-based Kadahar operation sometime in late summer. The GIRoA will probably still be incapable of establishing legitimate governance: no functioning police force, no capacity to build roads, no ability to funnel international development funds from Kabul down to the local level. The winter will see a lull in fighting, but the TB will have an active presence in and around the city conducting M&I and generally demonstrating that the US hold is tenuous at best.

So July 2011, which is the point of maximum US troop presence, will probably mark the shift from a heavy-footprint COIN campaign designed to support the GIRoA to a lighter-footprint CT campaign designed to focus on AQ.

I'm a believer in the potential of COIN, I've slogged my miles as a grunt in IZ and I've seen what we can do when we have a HN partner compared to when we don't. In Anbar, we were flailing without making progress: the difference was the buy-in of the Sunni tribal leaders and the emergence of Iraqi institutions (albeit local ones) committed to securing their own land. But I don't think we're going to see that in AF: tribal authority is more diffuse, and the adversary is part of the tribal confederation, so they can't be depicted as "outside agitators" the way AQIZ was.

I suspect that GEN Petraeus will do what he can over the next year, grasp that the barriers to establishing capable governance are rooted in the physical and social terrain of AF, and conclude that the COIN strategy is not going to succeed in a timeframe that the American people will support. Nation-building isn't really our bag anymore.

my $0.02...


Kopf Jager (not verified)

Fri, 06/25/2010 - 3:45am

General Petraeus will go to Afghanistan and make his initial assessment. In a month or so he'll return and report his findings and recommendations to the President.

He will say three things.

1. Relax these ridiculous Rules of Engagement.

2. Give me more troops.

3. Drop this STUPID timeline of July 2011.

He ought to tell Obama one other thing:

"If you don't give me what I want then I will resign."

President Obama knows General Petraeus is his last chance to get this right and facing the threat of a Petraeus resignation Obama will be forced to put up or pull out.

Troufion (not verified)

Thu, 06/24/2010 - 9:08pm

The reassignment of Gen Petraus fits with the Presidents MO. He prefers, especially in tight times, to appoint people he knows. He knows Petraus. All the other candidates would have been presented to him in the same manner that McChrystal was on reputation alone. That does not diminsih the fact that any other mentioned candidates could do the job. Petraus is just the known quantity. He would still be expendable. Ask John Wayne and Robert Montgomery...

Lt. John Brickley: Theirs not to reason why. Theirs but to do...
Lt. 'Rusty' Ryan: And die...

oldpapjoe (not verified)

Thu, 06/24/2010 - 1:31pm

Anyone who thinks GEN McCrystal deliberately allowed the article to be published so he could avoid being held accountable for the Afghan defeat doesn't know him. He is not that kind of man. Just the opposite in fact. He knew the article put him and his inner ring in a bad light and that he would never be able to get beyond it (I disagree with that but I think he thinks it to be so) and would become ineffective before Congress and the MSM and other agencies.

If <a href="… is to be believed</a>, (my <b>emphasis</b> added) .....

The editors did a thorough fact-check as evidenced by the lack of dispute over the veracity of the quotes or exchanges. "I haven't heard a word about that and would be shocked if I did," said Bates. <b>They did not, as reported by Politico, show the general and his team the entire article before publication.</b></blockquote>
"That all stems from Politico misunderstanding my comments on Morning Joe this morning," said Bates. <b>"We never show a story to a source before publication."</b>
....then I retract my Machiavellian speculation that hinged on my perception of a "damn the torpedoes" pre-publication moment.

I'd also clarify that I never meant to infer it was a setup all along with staged conduct back in April, as some of the grander conspiracy theorists have suggested. Rather a shoot-the-moon, eyes open move from the far more recent "go ahead, publish as is" decision. Which now doesn't look like it was a decisionable event. Perhaps that element is just some Team America hubris. But we've still got that civilian control thing....

To Trufion.. you right and that rule is Never discuss family business with strangers. I don't disagree but to say it for WEEKs to a guy from Rolling Stone gimme a break.

To Anon
Either he wanted out and didn't have what it takes to walk away or he spent too much time listening to the sunshine his staff blew up his skirt. Either way a poor tactical decision. He might have accomplished a re-think is he re-signed and called a spade a spade.

Anonymous (not verified)

Thu, 06/24/2010 - 12:45am

No one is indespensible.

Then why do you take a COCOM Cmdr and reshuffle him--actually demote him based on the new position?

It will be interesting to see how Gen. P who tried last week to move the goal posts on the Obama timeline of 2011 and got raked over by the media for the attempt---reacts when he realizes as did Gen. McC that 2011 will be a failure and he will be the General going down in history as "losing" Afghanistan.

If the reports are correct Gen. McC did in fact get a chance to preread the draft article and he still let it go through---which tells me he had come to the personal decision that 1) the war was going nowhere, 2) the President did not really care other than getting out, and 3) he did not want to go down as the General being defeated.

Gen. McC was a product of the last stages of the degradation of the VN era Army and I think he was starting to realize the same trends amoung the ground troops are setting in.

Tim Brown (not verified)

Wed, 06/23/2010 - 10:44pm

Oval Office, The White House, Washington, DC June 23 2010

McChrystal to Obama

Good luck with that, I'm out.

Troufion (not verified)

Wed, 06/23/2010 - 8:46pm

I am sure McC was/is as hard working as the articles about him say. But he is done, he broke the one rule that cannot be broken. There are plenty of good officers out there who can take his place. That is the one good thing about our system of creating Generals and Admirals. No one is indespensible.

Mike Few (not verified)

Wed, 06/23/2010 - 8:17pm

I'll bet two months paychecks that you'll never see a harder working officer.

Mike Few (not verified)

Wed, 06/23/2010 - 8:12pm

Since we're playing general officer shuffle, I propose that they give LTG McChrystal a chance to redeem himself by "demoting" him back in charge of the CT effort with the task of taking down the top five Al Qaeda leaders. Let him work in the shadows and do his thing. Send him off with orders of UBL's head on a platter.

Give LTG McC a month to sulk and think that all is lost. Let the ego and vanity subside. Then, put Stan the Man back in the game with a little Emerson attached...

"Be not a slave of your own past. Plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep and swim far, so yoshall come back with self-respect, with new power, with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old."

Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 06/23/2010 - 7:40pm

Looks like the civilian leadership did not even finish reading the entire article for if they did they sure did not comment on the comments coming from the ground troops which was in the second part of the article.

"Many of us saw the very challenge that the president outlined today in how you retain a chain of command given this," one adviser said. "If you read the beginning of the article, you are left with great concern about how our allies will read this."

Comments coming out of NATO yesterday fully indicated that the whole thing was a non issue of significance for them---so just who are these advisors who know so little of the world around them?

If I recall a large number of the advisors and staff have never served in any military organization or participated in combat operations.

Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 06/23/2010 - 7:27pm

Anyone willing to comment on this article out of the UK? Looks like the key McC COIN types are pulling out-who is Gen. P going to bring in that has half the motivation?

Sounds like to me the National Command Authority did not really understand the AFG war--but hey wars are not the average community organizing event that one has deep experience on.

Gen. P was unable to keep the UK in Iraq and this incident will probably push the current UK government to pull out at the end of this year.

It is telling this individual is actually leaving as it speaks volumes of how he thinks the war will go going forward without Gen. McC.

"British ministers and commanders have consistently made it plain that they are huge admirers of Gen McChrystal, strongly supporting his focus on trying to work with the Afghan population and build up their security forces, with less emphasis on military might, including bombing from the air.

They have repeatedly referred to McChrystal's doctrine of "strategic patience" and shared, though less publicly, his discreet use of special forces and attempts to attract Taliban fighters back into the fold.

Among McChrystal's staff, described by Rolling Stone as consisting of a "handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs", is a former head of Britain's special forces.

Sir Graeme Lamb was preparing to retire last year when McChrystal asked him to join his team. Lamb flew to Washington, and the two men sealed the deal in Arlington, Virginia, home of the Pentagon.

"I don't think there is a Brit that could have made the same call," Lamb told Dexter Filkins, who wrote a long piece on the US general for New York Times Magazine in October 2009. "I first worked for him in the Gulf war, and General McChrystal was the sharpest, fastest staff officer I have ever come across - and I had been serving for 20 years at that point," said Lamb. "He could take ideas, concepts, directions, and he could turn them into language, into understanding, and pass it out at an electric rate."

Lamb was singled out for praise earlier this month by General David Petraeus, commander of US forces throughout the Middle East and central Asia, in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute, for promoting reconciliation and reintegration, first in Iraq and now in Afghanistan.

He described last year how British special forces - there are about 500 in Afghanistan - were hitting the Taliban hard. "We are continuing to strike the Taliban, and have to, till their eyeballs bleed." Yet he is also a firm adherent of encouraging "reconcilable" Taliban to lay down arms.

In evidence to the Chilcot inquiry in December, Lamb, a former SAS soldier, spoke of the need for reconciliation, the idea of dealing with somebody with blood on their hands. "Who didn't have blood on their hands?" he said.

Lamb continued: "It is not about winning and losing, it is about setting the conditions for progress and change".

His approach in Iraq, where he helped Petraeus, attracts the support of Sunni leaders, while killing al-Qaida commanders attracted him to McChrystal. Lamb is likely to go with McChrystal. The questiion facing British commanders in Helmand is whether they will be able to seize on McChrystal's legacy in a critical stage of the conflict.

Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 06/23/2010 - 7:13pm

The bigger question is have the US ground troops started writing it all off and are trying to stay alive until they go home? Have they started to question openly the policy?

There were a number of references to this in the article and there have been a serious number of COL level comments coming from AFG over the last day that tend to back that up.

Cannot image a Gen. P trying to convince ground pounders that the policy that they are dying for is 100% correct as was quoted in the RS article.

Cannot see Gen. P appologizing on Afghan national TV for dead civilians.

An the National Command Authority still does not go to Afghanistan on a reoccurring basis to signal their support other than the recent short photo op---the first in two years---really shows the troops where the priorities are.

Let me second libertarinsoldier, with the caveat that rumors have circled for a while about an Eikenberry/McChrystal personality conflict. Karzai, reportedly, favored McChrystal. The mission is not going well when someone like Karzai is able to play favorites. He may be corrupt, but he is not stupid.



Wed, 06/23/2010 - 6:15pm

There won't be an "AMB Crocker" because his position does not exist in AFG. Iraq was a US show and became a US only show over time. So, as long as the commander and the Ambassador were in synch, there was unity of effort. Iraq did not have a JCMB (co-chaired by UNAMA and the HN) approving all major decisions on development, governance and security. Iraq did not have an IPCB run by the Europeans making lower level decisions on what will be done by who regarding the police. Iraq did not have third countries paying large amounts of the freight (JPN for police salaries, India and TU with bilateral development and security assistance programs, Russia with its own bilateral security assistance program). Iraq did not have two-thirds of its development assistance funded from non-US sources.
The only way something approaching a "Crocker" position could evolve is if all the ISAF countries--starting with the US and the rest of NATO--gave control of their resources to Sedwell, and that is not conceivable to me.

Sean (not verified)

Wed, 06/23/2010 - 5:38pm

I am certainly noone to claim I have all the answers to "So now what?" in Afghanistan. However, two things jump out at me with this decision.

1. Is GEN Patraeus the only guy who can knows how to do this stuff? I mean - I am sure his family is like - "Great, I guess we won't see Daddy again for another two years..."

2. I thought that one of the guiding tenets of COIN operations was that the military shouldn't be in the lead. Seems to me like the military are the only ones doing anything. why isn't O'bama energizing the State Department to do their jobs in Afghan?

Anyway, just my thoughts.

Mike Few (not verified)

Wed, 06/23/2010 - 5:37pm

Anonymous at 4:36PM was me.

Anonymous (not verified)

Wed, 06/23/2010 - 5:36pm

President Obama talked about unity of effort today. I thought he did a good job in his speech; however, when are we going to solve the issue of unity of command?

It's a structure problem, stupid!

The lack of one person in charge of the war has hampered us since 9/12/01. First, President Bush turned to SOCOM as the main effort without accountability or responsibility. Then, we resolved to have civilian and military heads dually in charge in Iraq and Afghanistan. It finally worked out with Patraeus/Crocker because of personal relationships.

I hope we eventually resolve this conflict. A president needs one person in charge of his efforts regardless if it's Iraq, Katrina, Afghanistan, or an oil spill.

tequila (not verified)

Wed, 06/23/2010 - 5:32pm

Thanks for the clarification.

SWJ Groundskeeper

Wed, 06/23/2010 - 5:00pm

Not at all, Tequila. Amb Eikenberry is indeed filling the billet of US Ambassador to Afghanistan. But as was pointed out in the RS piece, he has not been as fully empowered there (whether by GEN McChrystal's doings or not) and to equate his full role to that exercised by Amb Crocker in a different situation is at best premature. That's just at the structural level even before considering achievement of unity of effort and results to date.

I am not saying Amb Eikenberry <i>can not</i> achieve those results. I am saying they haven't been achieved to date, and it takes two to tango. This is not a slam on the current billet holder, but a statement that a team needs to achieve that elusive magic in making that very tricky civ-mil partnership go. Perhaps it'll be him.

Sorry if I was unclear and did not realize I could be misinterpreted as offering a backhand. I'm more of a two to the chest type. And I'm not firing at Amb Eikenberry.

tequila (not verified)

Wed, 06/23/2010 - 4:49pm

Given that former general Karl Eikenberry is already filling the Crocker role, I'm assuming this is an unnamed slam at him.

I think Francesc Vendrell, quoted by Thomas Ruttig, is right.…

"Having failed dismally to make the Afghan people our allies, we will inevitably abandon them to a combination of Taliban in the south and the warlords in the north and - having somehow redefined success - we will go home convinced that it is the Afghan people who have failed us."