Tags: Afghanistan, Politics
When, even in a political context, is it fair game to criticize a President in a time of war in his role as CINC? Is this a good thing? Is this a healthy thing? Does the CINC own the war he wages, or does his nation?
As for the middle two questions above, the answer is both yes and no; it all depends on the context. In a Representative Republic such as ours, criticism of public officials is an essential cleansing agent and self-correcting mechanism. It ensures flawed policies are discovered and mistakes corrected, and it assists weak policies to be strengthened.
There is a problem with criticism when the motivation for criticism is not to point out areas for improvement, but to destroy one domestic political entity strictly to strengthen another.
When a nation is involved in war, when non-value added criticism divides a nation against itself for political advantage, then the whole national enterprise’s effort is weakened. We have that problem now in Afghanistan, and it is getting worse – both parties are to blame.
During the previous administration, the political and media classes of this nation re-started a bad political play for a nation at war: the integration of party politics and the political personalization.
President George Washington did not like party politics – and for good reason. Though perhaps a necessary evil, in his farewell address – among other warnings – came this.
Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.
Of course this isn’t new. The election of 1864 makes what we do now look tame, but does not excuse our behavior. At recent example of today’s version of what Washington warned us about can be found in the infamous Rockefeller Memo. Sadly, on both sides of the political aisle – this cancerous activity did not end when the Democrats took the White House in 2008.
From the start of this present conflict, I did not like the personalization of this conflict in the person of the President; pro or con. I still refer to this as The Long War. It will last multiple Presidents for many decades. We cannot wage this war on election cycles and expect to win.
After his victory in 2008’s election, President Obama had an opportunity to mitigate the interplay between national security and domestic politics. You can never get rid of it, but it needed to be decreased after the disgraceful overheating from 2003-2008. Our nation would be better for it. The foundation was there, and in many ways I think the instinct was as well; SECDEF Gates was kept on from President Bush’s administration. Old habits die hard though, and that did not happen. No, instead we got “the Obama surge in Afghanistan.”
Let’s review some fundamentals on the plan being executed in AFG now. The strategy, though revised as all plans are, predates President Obama and General McChrystal. Fact.
The pedigree is clear; the shortcomings identified by General McNeill in “NewWar” (smaller, lighter forces laden with caveat-encumbered allied forces leavened with wishful thinking and Tiffany Theories) combined with the lessons of Iraq – resulted in General McKiernan’s “Shape-Clear-Hold-Build” COIN strategy and the uplift of USA forces in AFG starting in mid-08. The concept development of Uncle Sam taking back the keys from NATO – the latest chapter being the creation of Regional Command Southwest – can be traced back to late 2007. Even “AfPak” predated the present administration.
I grudgingly accepted the new administration’s desire to “get their stink” on the plan in early 2009 – after all they needed to remove all the political mud thrown at the enduring AFG challenge, often by their own party, during the rule of the previous administration – but on balance, like the SECDEF, the plan is fundamentally unchanged.
In the last year, we have seen from both sides of the aisle a repeat of the “AFG is Obama‘s War” mantra. No, it is American’s War. It is the West’s War.
Because the political parties decided to continue the personalization of our Nation’s war, the inevitable has happened. As President Obama’s domestic political standing starts to wobble and he starts to show significant weakness, politicians are doing what they have a habit of doing – looking for any weapon to attack him. From the Left and the Right, they see the Obama Stamp on an item, and they grab it and attack it. The Left want him to leave now; the Right wants him to move the knob to 11.
Sadly, the AFG campaign now has an Obama sticker on it. The Obama Administration is not blameless in this – any fair minded person has to admit that they are at least 51% responsible for the personalization of AFG, and it didn‘t have to be that way. Remember the previous Administration‘s mantra? “I will follow the best advice from my Commanders on the Ground?” They should have picked that up, but they haven’t. As a matter of fact – with their immature “Smarter” spin, they are even more entwined with it. They could have turned a de-personlization of the conflict to political advantage, but they blew it to their detriment and ours.
Infuriating, we now have this;
Downbeat news reports and second-guessing in Congress about the course of the war in Afghanistan have touched a nerve in the Pentagon, where some worry the negativity is undercutting public sentiment before President Barack Obama’s strategy even has a chance to work.Defense Secretary Robert Gates is among those to privately voice concerns about a wave of pessimism that they believe stems partly from embedding journalists solely with military units in Afghanistan’s south, where fighting is fiercest. Some officials talk of changes to make embeds go elsewhere too.
As I warned over at my homeblog – the timeline of JUL 11 and the resulting STRATCOM cross-messaging is a Strategic blunder on multiple levels.
The Pentagon’s growing sensitivities put a spotlight on what some see as increasingly shaky support for a six-month-old war strategy that hinges on surging U.S. forces into the restive south, heartland of the Taliban, before starting a gradual withdrawal in July 2011, conditions permitting.Asked in a Senate hearing on Tuesday whether he still supported beginning a withdrawal in July 2011 given recent setbacks in the south, General David Petraeus, who oversees the Afghan war as head of U.S. Central Command, said: “I support the policy of the president.”
But he added: “In a perfect world … we have to be very careful with timelines.”
Oh, and in case you were wondering – I am not this source – though I think we have the same background. Maybe this guy is a Salamander reader?
But some top military officials say they won’t really know whether the counterinsurgency strategy is working or not until next summer, around the time Obama hopes to begin a draw down.”It’s a war. It’s not a political campaign,” one military official said. “The negativity (in the press and in Congress) can go too far. There are parts of Afghanistan that aren’t going well. It’s a mixed bag.”
SECDEF gets it too.
Gates let his frustrations show last week after a meeting with NATO ministers in Brussels.”I, frankly, get a little impatient with some of the coverage because of the lack of historical context,” he told reporters, noting that the 30,000-troop surge ordered by Obama in December was only now beginning to be felt on the ground.
“So as far as I’m concerned, this endeavor began in full, and reasonably resourced, only a few months ago,” he said.
Strategic patience. That is what we need. What we also need is the Obama Administration and members of both parties in Congress to back off. De-personalize and de-politicize as much as practical. Stop saying that the 30,000 is Obama’s surge. It was planned by the military prior to Obama taking office. It is America’s surge. Give the military the time – the Strategic patience – it needs to finish the job. This can be done.
Oh, that is from one to three decades BTW. Will someone please beat that into the head of Geoff Morrell please? He isn’t helping anyone but the Taliban with talk like this. This isn’t a political campaign ….. and oh; don’t go into comments and quote Carl to me – read him in the original German if you want to know what he is talking about. Here is Geoff giving prima facie evidence that he needs a new job.
“While I understand the fact that there have been developments, such as the increase in casualties, that would cause concern, there also needs to be a recognition that we know and warned this fight was going to get harder before it got easier,” said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
“We do expect, by the end of the year, we’ll be able to show that they are making progress,” Morrell said. “Let’s at least allow them the next six months to prove that General McChrystal’s strategy will work.”
Six months? What is his Operational Planning training, Risk? Somehow, we need to get back to fundamentals. And yes, I am repeating myself – for a reason. Some things need repeating 2, 3, a thousand times.
Though not always true, this plan was developed and is being executed via the best military advice in response to the direction and guidance by the Commander in Chief. Though there have been modifications on the edges and a natural adjustment as we move forward – the fundamental plan in place has been with us through two administrations. It is a good plan and the right plan. Sure, there are some good points about how to perhaps better execute it in places – but that is an Operational and Tactical issue.
This plan will need to be in place for many more administrations, from both parties. It is in the interest of the military and this nation to back away from personalization and politicization. We endanger our own Center of Gravity – the support of the American People – if we do not.
Is there a place for criticism? Absolutely. Criticism and hard questions are essential to make sure the best plan is there. Where does it go to far? When it gets mindless in pursuit of partisan politics.
There are two places where the CINC is 100% fair game during a time of war; those appointments at the highest levels that he makes to run the conflict at the Strategic and Operational Levels, and his direct intervention in sound military policy.
His top appointment that are at the Operational and Strategic levels WRT AFG? Gen. McChrystal and Gen. Petraeus? ADM Stavridis? No complaints there.
Sound military policy? Well, LBJ’s micro-managing of the air war in Vietnam is one example of bad – and this “JUL 2011” is another. If the CINC’s critics want a legitimate topic to attack the President’s conduct of the war – that is your target. That is fixable – as you hear SECDEF Gates and others trying to do as they look for a face-saving path for the CINC to back away from his comments.
The rest of the attacks on the conduct of the war in AFG? Shipmate – that ain’t President Obama; that is the military.