Yesterday morning, at a meeting of the neoconservative Foreign Policy Initiative, a former top US military officer suggested that General Stanley McChrystal might resign from his post if President Obama doesn’t go along with his pending request for more troops for Afghanistan.
Brig. Gen. Mark T. Kimmitt, a former Bush administration official and Centcom officer, in answer to a question from the panel’s moderator, said that he hoped that the differences between the White House and its generals didn’t escalate to such a dramatic level. But, he said, if Obama doesn’t give McChrystal the resources he needs, then the four-star general might quit. “Most commanders would offer their resignation” if they perceive that the commander-in-chief isn’t giving them what they need, he said. In that case, McChrystal might have to say: “I’m not capable of doing it. Maybe somebody else is.”
At the conclusion of the panel, I asked Kimmitt about his comments, and he emphasized that he isn’t predicting that McChrystal might quit. McChrystal, he said, is presenting Obama with three choices: a maximum option, that would involve up to 40,000 more troops, a middle option, and a low option. Under all three, Kimmitt said, McChrystal believes that he can do the job. On the other hand, if he doesn’t get the low option, probably something like an additional 15,000 troops, the general might consider quitting.
Needless to say, the resignation of McChrystal, who’s been elevated to near-hero status by the Republican right, would be a frontal challenge to the White House. So far, in a sign that the White House isn’t playing patsy for the military, the administration has resisted bringing McChrystal back to Washington to testify, Petraeus-style, before Congress. And they’ve downplayed the significance of McChrystal’s role, saying that his input is just one of many sources that are providing information to the White House as it considers the next phase of its failing Afghanistan strategy.
At least one report today suggests that Obama might refuse to support additional forces in Afghanistan, instead relying on targeted Predator-type attacks on Al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan:
“President Barack Obama’s strategy against al-Qaida may shift away from more troops in Afghanistan and toward more drone strikes against terrorist targets.
“As the war worsens in Afghanistan, Obama could steer away from the comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy he laid out this spring and toward a narrower focus on counterterror operations.
“Two senior administration officials said Monday that the renewed fight against al-Qaida could lead to more missile attacks on Pakistan terrorist havens by unmanned U.S. spy planes. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because no decisions have been made.”
The Wall Street Journal reports today that the administration has ordered McChrystal to delay submitting his call for more forces:
“The Pentagon has told its top commander in Afghanistan to delay submitting his request for additional troops, defense officials say, amid signs that the Obama administration is rethinking its strategy for combating a resurgent Taliban.”
And the paper adds:
“One senior administration official involved in Afghan policy acknowledged that the White House and Gen. McChrystal’s headquarters may not yet be on the same page on the way forward in Afghanistan.
“But the official said Mr. Obama needs to take a much broader view than the Afghan commander when deciding whether to send more forces.
“‘Stan McChrystal is not responsible for assessing how we’re doing against al Qaeda,’ said the senior administration official. ‘He’s not assessing how the Pakistani military is doing in its counterinsurgency campaign. That’s not his job. So Stan’s report is a very important input into this overall strategy, but it’s not the only input.'”
The New York Times, in its news analysis piece today, notes that McChrystal is a potent force:
“Even as the president expresses skepticism about sending more American troops to Afghanistan until he has settled on the right strategy, he is also grappling with a stark reality: it will be very hard to say no to General McChrystal.”
But, like the Journal, the Times notes:
“Administration officials said that the general’s assessment, while very important, was just one component in the president’s thinking.”
It’s clear that, for Obama at least, the catastrophic election in Afghanistan is a game-changer. Now, not only is the US fighting an uphill battle in Afghanistan, but it’s fighting on behalf of an obviously corrupt, unrepresentative government that is hardly a model of democracy.
In fact, however, no democracy will be unfolding in Afghanistan anytime soon. As we exit, we’ll have to leave that country to the tender mercies of its warlord-ridden, tribal based fiefdoms, including the pro-Taliban ones, and let them fight it out. As I’ve written before, Obama will have to sit down with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan, and ask them to use all their influence with the Taliban to get them to make a deal, at least one that excludes Al Qaeda from the mix. They’ll have to sit down with Russia, India and Iran to get them to persuade their friends and allies, including the non-Pashtun Afghans that made up most of the Northern Alliance, to cut a deal with the pro-Taliban Pashtuns. And it will have to bring China into the package, too. It’s a huge and complex diplomatic undertaking, and it will require the United States to give each of those countries some concessions in other areas, a price that they can extract for cooperating with Washington on its Afghan exit.