24 Sep 2009 @ 3:36 AM 

Wouldn’t Expect Him To Say Anything Else


General McChrystal has spoken to the press about his assessment and the resulting debate within the administration, saying that he welcomes debate of the way forward and is unequivocally not considering resigning. I wouldn’t expect him to say anything else. Remember, the specter of resignation was not raised by the General, but reportedly by officers close to him. If General McChrystal spoke of resignation, it would be repeating the same gaff that got another General fired in Korea lo these many years ago.

The General is not insubordinate. He’s not going to be insubordinate in the press, either. He’s not going to challenge the President’s authority to make decisions. He has made his assessment. He has made his decisions about the way forward. He has prepared any requests for further resources that he deems necessary. There is no reason to respond to any decisions prior to their announcement. He also recognizes that the President has to do his due diligence.

“A policy debate is warranted,” McChrystal told the Times. “We should not have any ambiguities, as a nation or a coalition. At the end of the day, we’re putting young people in harm’s way.”

What I can tell readers is exactly what I told them yesterday. There is a lot more to say, in detail, about the things that we have learned as a nation, as an Military, as an Army and as counterinsurgents about what we are doing in Afghanistan. At this point in the conflict, a decision has to be made. The public is playing a role in that decision. We are only as agile and strong as our slowest and least agile member, and once again the public is proving to be that weak sister. They do have influence, and they are exerting a negative influence at a critical moment. It’s as if the public were suddenly pressuring FDR to pull out of the Pacific in WW-II, urged by “thinkers” who prognosticate (mostly from civilian standpoints) that “island hopping” is a failed strategy.

It’s not all their fault. The public is like a crop of mushrooms; they are kept in the dark and fed fecal matter. The organizations whose jobs are to inform the public, the press and the rest of the mainstream media, cannot be relied upon to provide anything close to an accurate picture of the conflict or the conditions which result in an insurgency in a formerly failed state struggling to become a real nation. There is plenty of truth out there, but the major networks and news organizations will never present it. No one is painting anything like a complete picture of the situation on the ground here or the things being done to resolve issues.

General McChrystal is right; putting people in harm’s way needs to be thought through. He has done his thinking. It takes courage to face fire, but it takes another kind of courage to tell young Soldiers and Marines to go and face that fire. We need leaders with courage. They may not face the pain of a bullet’s strike, but they face another kind of pain. They need to to have the courage to face that pain. Leaders without courage are less than useful at a time like this. Those who advocate using “surgical” techniques in place of such risks are not demonstrating the kind of courageous leadership that is needed in such “interesting times.”

Al Qaeda and the Taliban are counting on just that trait. They are counting… betting their futures… on our less than positive national traits to come bleeding through the “colors that don’t run.” Those “colors that don’t run” are what we see. Many others see a purplish-pinkish smear that has all run together, because in their appraisal, those colors have run plenty.

We are judged by friend and foe by what we do, not what we say. Our colors are beginning to run as the people of the United States begin to listen to the wheezing fat kid in the backs of their skulls in growing numbers. We see the polls over here. The President sees the polls and his judgment is more affected by them than many previous Presidents. Some applaud that condition. I ask for courageous leadership to be shown here. If the weaker strands begin to fail, then the leadership need even more courage to make the decisions that will demonstrate that our word means something. It’s not a pride issue; it’s a trust issue. We have not proven ourselves trustworthy. We must prove that we have learned that once we begin a project, especially one of this magnitude, all excuses as to why it’s okay to quit and walk away only sway our own minds, not those of the rest of the world. Respect for our word is as important in the world as it is when you walk into a bank asking for a loan and they point out that you defaulted on your house. You wish that they would ignore that, but they won’t.

The rest of the world won’t ignore it, either. And out here, seven years is like ten minutes. That default doesn’t roll off of our credit report so easily. We can explain and explain why it’s not our fault, but the default on Vietnam will not go away until we have shown that we have learned the real lessons of that conflict. Not living up to our word is only one lesson we didn’t learn. If you read the rest of the assessment, you will find that a lot of lessons have been learned. Just as the new captain goes to turn the ship, everyone wants to man the lifeboats.

I stand shaking my head.

Perhaps I need more faith in the American people just like they need more faith in the unproven General and the behaviors he is enforcing here. Perhaps I need to have faith in the leadership who seems to waver, that there is real courage there inside, the kind of courage to face pain and risk loss. Perhaps there is greater understanding that refusing that pain and protecting the self is not smart, it’s failure. Perhaps there is broad understanding that another mark in the “L” column brands that “L” on the forehead of every American, just as the stain has not completely faded from the last failure.


In the meantime, there is a decision to be made. Ultimately, it falls on the shoulders of one man who desperately sought that mantle and now wears it. I would expect General McChrystal to say nothing else but what he said to the Times. He has cleared the path for courage to be shown, for our good faith and credit to continue to build. There are many who would cheer our failure, who plead for cowardice. Cowards have latched onto the words, “mission creep” that the President uttered this past weekend. They continue to pressure the President to turn from the hard, exhausting and painful; to embrace the softer, easier path to ruined credit. The President sees, on one hand, a General with a realistic appraisal of a tough situation and a plan to overcome the difficulties, but not without pain. On the other hand he sees the throng with icepacks on their heads, their feet clean of the dust of the ancient land, pleading for him to take that easy path to promised ice cream, to turn from responsibility.

A turning point is reached; the jumping off place. Tension builds as the one man who has taken on the mantle of leadership ponders our course as a nation and the letter we will all wear for decades. The General has spoken and stands waiting. The voices of the icepack-adorned throng grow shrill and strident, wailing and pleading for a man to ease their suffering by turning tail and fleeing from the pain. Advisers with plans of their own beg for the ear, promising less pain and offering mythic Rambos and robots to solve all of his woes, minimizing his pain while giving the illusion of commitment. Still, in the end, one man decides. Courage or cowardice? Risk or safety? Sweat or ice cream? Keep the national word or default and blame the previous signatory, convincing himself that the rest of the world cares who gave our national bond for it to be broken later? In this moment we either continue to redefine our national character or we admit that our weak character was not an anomaly but who we really are. It is now up to one man who sought that responsibility.

We, embroiled in the dust, each fighting in his or her own way, can only watch as our future history is formed before our eyes, our voices gelled into only one man who speaks for us all to the President.

I wouldn’t have expected for him to say, in this moment in time, anything else.

Tags Categories: Uncategorized Posted By: Old Blue
Last Edit: 24 Sep 2009 @ 03 36 AM


Responses to this post » (7 Total)

  1. anan says:

    Big Blue, do you think that the ANA + ANP can win this fight long term with $120 billion in international financing over 20 years?

    What are your thoughts about allowing Russians to teach ANA officers and NCOs at ANA academies inside Afghanistan? Russia restated their offer to do more to train the ANA this year.

    What about this idea, super embed one augmented “training” Indian Army division HQs inside Major General Aminullah Karim’s Afghan National Army Training Command. The Indian division HQs would report to the CSTC-A/NTM-A command. All current CSTC-A/NTM-A training the ANA would become subordinate to the Indian Army Division HQs.

    The ETTs and OMLTs would be separated from CSTC-A/NTM-A and report to a new ISAF division HQs that super embeds with General Staff Chief of Operations Lieutenant General Shir Mohammad Karimi’s Army HQs (that the 5 ANA Corps report to.)

    Indian and Russian troops cannot be combat troops because Pakistan and Saudi Arabia would FLIP. But this arrangement would allow a significant increase in the number of ANA 2nd Lieutenants, other officers, NCOs, and privates who could be trained at any given point of time.

    Another candidate to bring into CSTC-A/NTM-A is China. China would lose as much as NATO from a Quetta Shura Taliban/Haqqani victory in Afghanistan. China is also Afghanistan’s largest trading and investment partner. China is already training ANA on Chinese soil on a small scale.

    The primary challenge would be to ensure that all ANA are trained according to a common shared doctrine, and are interoperable with each other, the ANP, and the ISAF.

    Now this idea is out of left field. In 2001 and 2002 Iran offered to train 20,000 Afghan National Army under US command with US doctrine (since the Iranians have been trained by US doctrine since the 1950s, unlike the Indians and Pakistanis that are trained under British doctrine for example.) The Iranian offer wasn’t accepted by VP Cheney and President Bush (under advise from the VP.) Iranians have restated their offer to train the ANA several times (although recently they haven’t explicitly stated the offer to train under US command because of the deterioration of US/Iranian relations.) How about bringing Iran into the CSTC-A/NTM-A?

    Any thoughts on these ideas?

  2. coffeypot says:

    Blue, you may have seen GenMcCrystal’s report to SOD Gates. If not, here is a link to it.


    I also believe that the American people are aware of much more than the media depicts. There is a huge support system out here.

  3. hebisner says:

    I haven’t seen any evidence this President is more driven or less driven by polls than any other President before him. He’s about par for the course. He’s pretty good, based on what we’ve seen so far, at keeping his cards close to his vest about what he really intends. That’s a game he plays with this opponents to get them to show their cards. It works most of the time. I think on this issue though he is struggling to resolve a difficult question that has serious consequences.

    What seems to have happened is that McChrystal was asked his opinion and he gave it. This President likes forthright opinions, even if it’s an opinion that he might not like. That’s a quality to be applauded. Military people need to be allowed to give unpleasant advice. That was an issue in the previous admin under Rumsfeld.

    But remember, polls do matter in the sense that they indicate public support. The President needs to gauge to what degree the public might be supportive of this effort. My hope is that he comes to the conclusion that it is worthwhile to convince the public it is essential. But for that to happen the public needs to be open to that process. It’s an open question if they are open to that or not. I’m not so sure it can be fairly characterized as lack of resolve, or totally as that. This is an expensive and risky endeavor. The public has been manipulated and, let’s face it, brazenly lied to about what occured in Iraq at various times. They are suspicious of the public statements they get about success in these areas now. They need to be treated like grownups and told they might not win, but that the effort is worth it. That’s a tough sell, even for this President who has some game in this area.

    I thin we are looking at this process the Administration is engaged in the wrong way. They should be willing to reexamine their assumptions about how to go forward. This is a good thing most of the time. This could be a healthy process that in the long run benefits the effort because it lay bares for the American public the rationales for and against in a way that doesn’t call the opposing viewpoints baby killers or hippie traitors.

    For the record, I’m supportive of the COIN efforts in Afghanistan and I hope the President commits fully to that effort. But don’t be fooled by all the hand wringing about this. McChystal is not going to be sacked because some staffer decided it would help their cause if the report was leaked. The Administration needs to construct a solid public argument for our operations in Afghanistan, and it has to be based on more than the drivel we heard in past years.

  4. fnord says:

    Politically speaking, its becoming a nightmare for him. Since the republicans are dedicated to negativism no matter what, hes damned either way: If he pulls out, he will be the man who chickened out in Afghanistan. If he follows Mc Chrystals advice, he will be the man who refused the brave marines to fight back, a “buddyfucker” and a coddler of muslim terrorists.

    The good part of this is that since he knows that the opposition will demonize him no matter what, he stands free to choose. The one issue wich such as us dont have the parameters for is the economical aspects of the war: If the president sees the investment as likely to break the back of the US economy (as is AQs openly stated plan), then he must make a really tough decision: Either put the country on warfooting through taxes or abandon the effort. In a sense, the republican party are AQs best friends at the moment, because any form for tax increase will be roundly demonized as socialism.

    We are still seeing the remnants of Donald Rumsfelds train wreck. Its left the president in a tough position, to put it mildly. Add to this that he is basically a civilian politican as opposed to a “warrior-king” a la Bush, and I dont envy him much.

  5. membrain says:

    Interestingly 60 Minutes, of all media outlets, did a very good interview segment with GEN McChrystal. It allows us to take a measure of the man. He’s as serious as a stroke. A very straight a talking, impressive leader. The concerning part is that the president has only spoken with him once during his 70 days on the ground in Afghganistan. Interested readers of Afghan Quest can watch it here: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=5345009n

  6. Lewis says:

    I think contemplating this decision has to be free of “cowardice” connotations. Blaming the “wheezing fat kids” back home is a pretty narrow-minded way of looking at it; I believe the domestic US opinion is they support the troops, but they just don’t want this to be a waste, same as anyone else. This is Afghanistan we’re talking about it; the challenge is quite high. People are actually aware of that, and they’re concerned. That there isn’t more concern and push for withdrawal even after 8 years being over should be a sign that they are being relatively patient.

  7. Graham says:

    I am an experienced B-1 WSO who recently discovered your blog and am boring through it backward. I thought this post most appropriate to write on, as I returned from an OEF tour this fall and experienced Gen McChrystal’s change in ROE first hand. It was very difficult to watch as the US Marines poured into Helmand and constantly hesitated to employ us for CAS; however, I understand the intent, and would applaud an effort to exit fixed-wing CAS from the fight to appease the Afghan people…given that we have enough troops on the ground to solidify the deliberate message of such a move. Nothing was more rewarding in a lifetime of work as dropping JDAM danger close, killing their enemy and hearing the JTAC’s voice after the splash call, but I have become passionate about this backwards nation and its future for the sake of our security.
    I recently volunteered for the AFPAK Hands program to be involved with JTF Phoenix and the expanding PRT role in Afghanistan, and would appreciate your comments as an expert in training and passion for the success of the Afghan people.

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