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Resolved to Be Irresolute

June 26, 2010

So this was the list of fact-check questions Rolling Stone magazine sent to McChrystal for a heads-up. It doesn’t contain even a trace of the controversial quotes published in the article. Did the General and his team really think that their comments were off the record in the actual “This stays between you and me” sense of the term? If so, then they’re either very naïve or too used to voicing their opinion without restraint — probably both.

It’s not a pretty picture when a capable and respected military figure has to go like this and it pains to realise how unnecessary this disruptive effect on the war effort is. The ray of hope in this story is General Petraeus. The man who led the Surge in Iraq to a desperately needed success, while not just enduring but handling perfectly the political circus that enveloped the effort, is the one who signals the best chances for victory in Afghanistan as well.

Nevertheless, the French Cowboy isn’t optimistic regarding Afghanistan. Neither a fearless McChrystal nor an impertubable Petraeus can win a war with a commander-in-chief who is actually looking for someone to manage the fight just long enough for the troops to be withdrawn at a time certain.

Obama claims that he’s going “to be insisting on a unity of purpose on the part of all branches of the U.S. government,” and that “[o]ur team is going to be moving forward in synch.” But what is the purpose, Mr President? Muddling through until, as VP Biden put it, “[i]n July of 2011, you’re going to see a whole lot of people moving out. Bet on it.”?

It doesn’t look like Obama wants to win the war. You hardly have the impression he even cares about it at all. Allies and enemies alike are reasonably doubtful about Obama’s commitment. To change this, Obama needs to do at least two things. Primo, be unequivocal in his rhetoric that he’s in the war to win it and that the preannounced withdrawal date will be ignored if the situation on the ground speaks against it. At the moment, the messages coming from the White House concerning the timetable are wishy-washy at best and contradictory at worst. If the trumpet doesn’t sound a clear call who will get ready for the fight?

Secundo, Obama should replace Holbrooke and Eikenberry, maybe even General Jim “Whiskey Tango Foxtrott” Jones. More than just a malcontent military guy, the McChrystal article showed that the entire constallation of key personalities in Afghanistan isn’t working. You could argue that McChrystal was the smallest problem as he, at least, got along with President Karzai, something that can’t be said of either Eikenberry or Holbrooke.

The French Cowboy is not holding his breath, of course, and I recommend that you don’t either. Why would a president who declares that “No one nation can or should try to dominate another nation.”, who calls himself a “citizen of the world”, who alienates allies and who bows (sometimes literally) before world leaders with sickening human rights records, think he has more to invest into the Afghan war than any other NATO member, if at all? In Obama’s world, American exceptionalism is just as Greek exceptionalism and Great Britain is for the US (quoting a White House official) “just the same as the other 190 countries in the world”. With such a philosophy it’s hard to find a rationale for being particularly commited to winning a war.

For Obama, the Afghanistan war (and the Iraq war, for that matter) are like gay rights. They’re not on his agenda, but he manages them to the extent that they don’t interfere substantially with his big plans regarding America’s future as a much less capitalist, much more centrally planned, much less internationally relevant nation that’s ‘just the same as the other 190 countries in the world.’

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