The decision by the Obama administration to fire General McKiernan as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and replace him with General Stanley McChrystal has been met with widespread praise, with former vice president and current chief Obama critic Dick Cheney describing McChrystal as “an absolutely outstanding officer.” With all the focus on whether McChrystal can decisively change the situation in Afghanistan, commentators are missing what McChrystal’s selection means.
Think about President Obama’s new strategy for Afghanistan. He’s put in place a reputable new commander in preparation for a broad counterinsurgency campaign. He’s dispatching over 20,000 additional soldiers to help bring security to the country and is putting pressure on the country’s neighbors to crack down on those trying to destabilize Afghanistan and kill our soldiers.
McChrystal’s selection is an unstated admission that the surge in Iraq, which President Obama opposed as a senator and presidential candidate, worked; now he intends to use that formula to win in Afghanistan. President Obama has also kept General Petraeus as head of CENTCOM and General Odierno as head of Multi-National Force Iraq — these two were the architects of the surge — not to mention President Bush’s replacement of Don Rumsfeld as defense secretary, Bob Gates. The Obama plan for Afghanistan is the logical progression of the war-fighting strategy President Bush bravely embraced in 2006 for Iraq under immense political pressure few elected officials could withstand.
McChrystal, who served for five years as the head of the Joint Special Operations Command that kindly gave Zarqawi his wish of martyrdom, is undoubtedly a master of 21st-century warfare. His success in that capacity shows he knows how to gain intelligence and manage the mind-boggling array of government agencies and red tape so as to allow for quick and efficient strikes based on the latest information.
There is some concern that McChrystal’s ability to target leadership indicates the new strategy will focus more on killing important individuals, rather than a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy. Based on General Petraeus’ position as head of CENTCOM, Gates’ specifically pointing out McChrystal’s “unique skill set in counterinsurgency,” and a simple look at Afghanistan, it is doubtful that that mistake will be made. Furthermore, he has demonstrated an understanding of what today’s wars require. As Time magazine noted, he ordered soldiers returning to Iraq to be stationed in their original neighborhoods of deployment, allowing for them to revive and maintain the personal relationships and local knowledge required for successful counterinsurgency operations.