(Considering that no analysis of the rebuilding of Afghanistan would be complete without a critique of the officer in charge of rebuilding Afghanistan (or defeating the Taliban, depending on your point of view), Eric C. would like to provide his thoughts.)
My apologies for quoting The Matrix in the title, but there is something apt about the sentiment that there is a huge difference between knowing what is the right to do and then doing that thing.
I thought of this when I listened to The NewsHour’s recap of Gen. McChrystal’s congressional interview on June 2nd. One of the reasons I began On Violence was to promote the proper way to fight counter-insurgency warfare. One could say the Army, through leaders like General David Patraeus, has already adopted good counter-insurgency tactics. One of the key questions still facing McChrystal is, does he know good counter-insurgency?
General McChrystal certainly talks like he knows counter-insurgency. In his interview before Congress, Gen. McChrystal says that in Afghanistan, “We must conduct a holistic counter-insurgency campaign, and we must do it well. Success will not be quick or easy. Casualties will likely increase. We will make mistakes.” True, true and unfortunately true. Gen. McChrystal, it appears, has joined Patraeus and others in knowing the way we must fight to win on the modern battlefield.
But can he execute the new strategy?
There is a difference between knowing the path and walking it, a knowing/doing gap if you will. When General McChrystal first commanded troops in Iraq, he detained Saddam Hussein and killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. But to do so, his troops “rounded up and held Iraqis by the dozens. Some of those detentions have come under scrutiny.” as the NewsHour reports. Journalists, like David Corn of Mother Jones magazine, condemn his leadership of Cam Nama detention facility, citing human rights violations. He also supervised the Ranger Regiment when they awarded a Silver Star to Pat Tillman, a black eye as black as it comes on a military career.
Thus far, though, General McChrystal seems genuinely repulsed by civilian casualties. Based on what he has said in interviews with 60 Minutes and Dexter Filkins, he knows that civilian perception of the government of Afghanistan is the only metric that matters. He knows that civilian casualties destroy our progress and our respect. It seems like he is executing good counter-insurgency, but it is still early.
We truly hope General McChystal has learned the lessons of failed counter-insurgency tactics and policies. Initial reports are optimistic, let’s hope he fulfills the promises.