Tin pot countries are ruled by colonels. Myanmar comes to mind ... and banana republics. In the United States, though, we have this tradition of civilian control of the armed forces. The floundering domestic press is all in a dither about the firing of four star General David McKiernan from his post as Area Commander in Afghanistan. The house organ of the military industrial complex, the Washington Post, could not come up with a good reason for Secretary of Defense Gates to have fired him, except a quote from some glib pundit in a think tank who opined that his "good job" was not sufficiently excellent. This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the print press is actually in the hire of the fish packing industry and that they don't read their own papers.
Robert Gates (C) and U.S. Army General David McKiernan, Commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan (R), listen to Afghan governors and local officials during their visit to Forward Operating Base Airborn on May 8, 2009 in Wardak Province, Afghanistan. Gates is in Afghanistan ahead of the 21,000 increase in U.S. troops in the country. (Photo by Jason Reed-Pool/Getty Images)
Lieutenant General (probably to be promoted) Stanley A. McChrystal is the likely replacement, that is, a person trained for armor replaced by one trained for special operations. This alone should provide the nation with some glimmering of intelligence about why the exchange has been made. Armor is something you wear in Afghanistan, not something upon which battles are planned and plastic pieces moved on that big square table in the middle of the room. In all candor, McKiernan is a nice guy, well-respected, and it does not take a spy-fly on the wall to understand the reasons beyond his MOS why he is being replaced.
The American public does not read The Guardian, al Jazeera, Asia Times, much less watch television stations from abroad. The fact is, though, that the Afghan War is being Vietnamized by the world press, which means that the world is seeing and reading about brutal casualties inflicted on putatively innocent civilian populations, not once in a blue moon, but on a really ugly seemingly daily basis. How many wedding parties have been blown to smithereens by the U.S. Army? How many villagers have lost their children to robotic assaults done by G.I.s who live and work in Nevada and go home for supper? How much bad publicity does President Obama need while trying to work out what must be the trickiest problem in statecraft since Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand brazenly strode through hostile Sarajevo?
The Afghan War was mangled by Cheney and Bush. They had a clear tactical, almost strategic, advantage after only a couple years of fighting and defeating the Taliban forces. But, every misstep by "allied forces" played into Taliban hands. The Taliban was able to demonstrate the rough immorality of the outsiders, the infidel, and they have frightened the simple folk into supporting them when American armed forces have not done that job through roughshod methods.
The Taliban, those unfortunates who find themselves facing annihilation of their traditional culture, are obviously fighting a losing battle, but their anger and fear does not accept the evidence of their senses. They feel bereft of the verities of their ancient culture, and indeed, their ancient culture, like traditional cultures all over the world, is disappearing. Taliban sees the missed chances as irretrievably gone, the opportunities to study abroad and make something new of oneself. The opportunity to link in with the global economy and join the world community in commerce and the exchange of ideas and ideals has been repudiated for the dogmatic "certainty" of a perverse, atavistic gynophobia, where the "enemy within" is as handy as mother, sister, daughter, wife. It is all about anger and fear, and they don't want to know. It is a puerile temper tantrum, except they are killing and maiming under the guise of being righteous.
President Obama cannot allow the Taliban to overtake the Karzai or any Afghan government, and therefore he cannot allow a commander to remain in the field whose moral control over the minute details of engagement permits egregious errors and whose lack of willingness to prosecute those who violate General Order #1 by proselytizing for Christianity spits in the face of people who would otherwise look to the United States as a way out of hell.
It is a tough call to blame the deterioration of the Afghan War on one man (unless you wanted to choose Dick Cheney), but there comes a time when the evidence is plain that the current manager is not fully in charge. The sacking of the commander sends a message down to the troops in the field that this war must be fought against the real enemy of Afghanistan, not against the Afghans themselves.
James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)