Reading Gen. McChrystal's Afghanistan assessment is easier than reading tea leaves, but judging by the murkiness of the debate about Afghanistan, few in the media or politics have read it. I say this having watched public discussion turn disagreement over troops levels into The Question of Consequence regarding overall strategy. Conservatives, listening to "the commander in the field," play McChrystal as The Hawk who wants to crush America's enemies into rubble (or, at least, more rubble than they are already in) as opposed to Obama The Wimp, whose hesitation and apparently dwindling support for a "surge" in Afghanistan threaten to turn McChrystal's winning strategy into a politically correct and ineffective recipe for defeat.
But what really separates Obama and McChrystal? Judging by publicly available statements and writings, nothing much. Which is why -- prediction time -- McChrystal probably won't quit when Obama gives him fewer forces than McChrystal is asking for.
Why? If you read McChrystal's report, the general makes it very clear that his change in strategy, not his change in troop levels, is his top priority. But this change in strategy is almost always left out of debate -- and certainly out of the conservative end of the debate, which focuses on giving the general the forces he wants to win. What McChrystal actually wants to win -- the support of the Afghan people, which is the basis of his new strategy -- is never mentioned.
This strategy change to "population protection" at the expense of "force protection" (or, better, this strategy change intensification because certainly key aspects of such a policy have long been in place) is in fact a politically correct and ineffective recipe for defeat, and, therefore, something right up the boss's alley.
From the McChrystal assessment:
Proper resourcing will be critical. The campaign in Afghanistan has been historically under-resourced and remains so today -ISAF is operating in a culture of poverty.
Consequently, ISAF requires more forces. This increase partially reflects previously validated, yet un-sourced, requirements. This also stems from the new mix of capabilities essential to execute the new strategy. Some efficiency will be gained through better use of ISAF's existing resources, eliminating redundancy, and the leveraging of ANSF growth, increases in GIRoA capacity, international community resources, and the population itself. Nonetheless, ISAF requires capabilities and resources well in excess of these efficiency gains. The greater resources will not be sufficient to achieve success, but will enable implementation of the new strategy. Conversely, inadequate resources will likely result in failure. However, without a new strategy, the mission should not be resourced.
There's the make or break point of the McChrystal assessment -- not troop levels but the "new strategy" (and the one we never talk about!). Let me repeat the general's words: Without a new strategy, the mission should not be resourced.
And what is McChrystal's "mission"? He writes:
ISAF's mission statement is: "ISAF, in support of GIRoA [Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, which is preferred military parlance], conducts operations in Afghanistan to reduce the capability and will of the insurgency, support the growth in capacity and capability of the Afghan National Security Forces (AN SF}, and facilitate improvements in governance and socio-economic development, in order to provide a secure environment for sustainable stability that is observable to the population."
And how to do that? McChrystal explains:
Accomplishing this mission requires defeating the insurgency, which this paper defines as a condition where the insurgency no longer threatens the viability of the state.
So, "defeating the insurgency" means "insurgency no longer threatens" not the state, but the "viability" of the state. In other words, the "insurgency" just gets tamped down some. Keep that in mind next time you see a story like this onoe about our brave men. And keep this in mind when reading this WSJ report on the latest White House deliberations:
White House officials said the review was continuing and that Mr. Obama hadn't made up his mind about troop levels, but multiple officials familiar with the deliberations said that the administration had come to believe that the Taliban and al Qaeda are such distinct entities that the U.S. can prevent the terror group's return to Afghanistan without trying to fully defeat the Taliban.
Sounds like an Obama-McChrystal match to me.
The next graph adds a note of doubt, maybe even suspense:
The emerging belief that the two onetime [???] allies should be treated differently is the reason that some senior administration officials are coalescing around an alternative proposal that would keep U.S. troop levels roughly constant while refocusing the broader American mission in Afghanistan on killing individual al Qaeda leaders rather than protecting the Afghan population.
There's a potential McChrystal deal-breaker, maybe.
To be continued....