Kavita Khory on the Sacking of McChrystal

Tuesday, July 6, 2010 - 12:00

Questioning Authority interrupted the busy summer schedule of professor of politics Kavita Khory to get her take on the firing of General Stanley McChrystal. Here’s what she had to say:

QA: Should high-ranking military commanders be letting their hair down with Rolling Stone reporters?

KK: The shock and awe over McChrystal's off-the-cuff remarks is naïve and a bit hypocritical. I don't find the comments about Biden, Holbrooke, or Eichenberry particularly distressing, nor am I surprised that McChrystal's counterinsurgency (COIN) plan for Afghanistan--clear, hold, build, and transfer--is not working. For months we’ve known the war in Afghanistan, despite claims of early victory, is going badly. Yet, until the Rolling Stone story broke, most Americans largely ignored the fact that the Obama administration's misguided "Af-Pak" policy was turning into a disaster for American diplomacy and military strategy. The real question is whether our collective outrage over McChrystal's insubordination and Team America's contempt for civilian officials can turn into a substantive and sustained critique of the decade-long war.

QA: Did Obama do the right thing in firing General McChrystal?

KK: Yes. McChrystal, until now, was the Teflon general. As Rolling Stone reported, McChrystal in 2004 signed off on a falsified report about Army Ranger Pat Tillman's killing by enemy fire. He allegedly ignored detainee abuse and torture at a detention facility under his command in Iraq. Last summer he leaked a report to the press warning of "mission failure" unless 40,000 additional troops were sent to Afghanistan. This time President Obama had no choice but to hold McChrystal accountable for his actions.

QA: What does this change in command signify for our Afghan policy?

KK: Replacing McChrystal with General Petraeus is not going to make any difference on the ground. The counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan will remain essentially the same. General Petraeus developed the strategy and implemented it in Iraq, where, according to the Obama administration, the "mission is accomplished." The analogy with Iraq is completely erroneous, yet the administration, members of Congress, and the media reassure us that Petraeus's "success" in Iraq can be replicated in Afghanistan.

The evidence is clear: U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is not working. The military declared victory in Marja, but we now hear the Taliban are back; the campaign in Kandahar is postponed until the fall; Hamid Karzai is convinced that the U.S. and NATO forces cannot win the war in Afghanistan, and he is seeking a compromise with the Taliban. The big winner, it seems, is Pakistan. Since May, Karzai has been meeting with Pakistani military and intelligence officials who are more than willing to broker a deal between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Despite public denials, Pakistan has continued to support the Taliban, and it seems their strategy has paid off. In what is seen as a significant policy shift, the Afghan government is sending a group of military officers for training to Pakistan.

QA: Do you think McChrystal was naïve, or was this his way of letting the American people know that our rules of engagement in Afghanistan are making our troops’ job impossible? And possibly a way for him to bail out with his military reputation intact?

KK: I really don't believe McChrystal was naïve at all. He believes completely in the counterinsurgency strategy he is implementing in Afghanistan, and the rules of engagement, aimed at minimizing civilian casualties, are central to it. General Petraeus, too, has made it clear that he is not going to change the rules of engagement. If McChrystal's intention was to "bail out" with his reputation intact, he clearly miscalculated!