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McChrystal's Feud with Biden Highlights Afghan Strategy Debate

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Word has it from the Telegraph that General Stanley McChrystal may hand over his resignatiion as the commander in Afghanistan. This comes as a result of the latest controversy over a candid interview he did with Rolling Stone Magazine in which he apparently belittled his superiors and colleagues, including the big cheese himself-- Mr. Barry Soetoro.

It's one of those controversies that came out of nowhere, like a meteor that stuck with full force, suddenly ending a career and giving the media something to fill the next few days of its news cycles with, much like Governor Elliot Spitzer's demise a few years ago.

No doubt, having the snarling heads of the Afghan War dragon snap at each other is an embarassing development for a government trying to sell a reality in which the war is not a quagmire and is worth the blood and money it has cost Americans since it started in 2001. (Remember that "discovery" last week of the wealth of natural resources Afghanistan is sitting on?) Therefore, it is likely in the coming weeks that if McChrystal resigns he will be allowed to fade into the background while a new commander is appointed so that everyone can simply forget about the incident and move on.

But the damage has been done. Among many other things, the article in Rolling Stone has once again shed light on the real dilemma that faces the leadership executing the war-- more dead civilians or more dead soliders.

In either case, America loses.

The article describes how Vice President Biden is not McCrystal's favorite person. One of the major conflicts between McChrystal and the VP has been war strategy. Last fall articles like this one from the Wall Street Journal hilighted the differences between them over what to rely more heavily on--soldiers, through troop surges and counter-insurgency efforts, as McChrystal advocated, or more reliance on drone strikes, as Biden pushed. While McChrystal supported targeted strikes from troops as the current strategy in Afghanistan was being devised,such efforts, Biden smartly feared, would result in more soldier deaths...something that wouldn't sit well with a public that had been promised "Hope" and "Change".

However, time and time again, drone strikes have resulted in civilian deaths on a massive scale. According to the Rolling Stone's article on McChrystal, the issue of civilian deaths, either from predator drones or from troop fire, has been a sore one for him, who sees them as perpetuating the conflict:

"Despite the tragedies and miscues, McChrystal has issued some of the strictest directives to avoid civilian casualties that the U.S. military has ever encountered in a war zone. It's "insurgent math," as he calls it for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies. He has ordered convoys to curtail their reckless driving, put restrictions on the use of air power and severely limited night raids. He regularly apologizes to Hamid Karzai when civilians are killed, and berates commanders responsible for civilian deaths. "For a while," says one U.S. official, "the most dangerous place to be in Afghanistan was in front of McChrystal after a "civ cas' incident." The ISAF command has even discussed ways to make not killing into something you can win an award for: There's talk of creating a new medal for "courageous restraint," a buzzword that's unlikely to gain much traction in the gung-ho culture of the U.S. military."

While no boss, (certainly not a president, puppet or not) would hesitate to sign a pink slip if one of his subordinates was openly voicing contempt for his leadership to the national media, there's also the political damage to consider. Weighing on the administration's mind no doubt is the picture that this incident paints of the Afghan War as a whole...rather than a successful military campaign nearing its end, the war is nothing more than prolonged blood-bath with no end in sight, fought as a cover to justify U.S. presence there while western powers lay claim to the country's natural resources. The in-fighting between the war's leadership spawns from the fact that there is no clear military goal in Afghanistan. Troops endlessly battle an enemy that often isn't identified. Drones bomb that same enemy from the sky. From this violence the enemy is not killed but strengthened. Revenge is sought for the lives of the innocent and the enemy's number grows.

For the war machine to keep pushing forward there must at least be an illusion of unity, and a lie of noble purpose has be told with a straight face. The McChrystal incident alone hasn't fractured the facade of achievable progress in Afghanistan--time, reality, and common sense have already done that. But what it has done by citing the bad McChrystal/Biden relationship is shown America the only bloody options it has if it wants its military to continue its adventure in Afghanistan--mercilessly kill innocents with technology, or face another Vietnam; a fork in the road in which both paths lead to Hell, and which most Americans if presented would refuse to follow.

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Andrew Steele is the editor of America 20xy-- an independent news service that highlights articles from around the web focusing on international and economic policy, and human rights abuses. The mission statement for the page is a quote from Thomas (more...)
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