Jumping In The Deep End

The Army Old Guard is not happy. General McKiernan handed his pistol is a yet another ‘once in a generation’ shock. When asked if the dismissal ended the general’s military career, Mr. Gates replied, “Probably.”

Fred Kaplan might exaggerate that Obama’s replacement of commanders in Afghanistan could determine his Administration’s future. He is absolutely right that this is now Obama’s war. Here’s what he reports:

McKiernan is an excellent general in the old mold. McChrystal [his replacement], who rose through the ranks as a special-forces officer, is an excellent general in the new mold. He has also worked closely with Gates and Petraeus. (In his press conference, Gates referred to McChrystal’s “unique skill set in counterinsurgency.”) For the past year, McChrystal has been director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. More pertinently, for five years before that, he was commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, a highly secretive operation that hunted down and killed key jihadist fighters, including, most sensationally, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq.

Last fall, Bob Woodward reported in the Washington Post that JSOC played a crucial, unsung role in the tactical success of the Iraqi “surge.” Using techniques of what McChrystal called “collaborative warfare,” JSOC combined intelligence intercepts with quick, precision strikes to “eliminate” large numbers of key insurgent leaders.

This appointment will not be without controversy. McChrystal’s command also provided the personnel for Task Force 6-26, an elite unit of 1,000 special-ops forces that engaged in harsh interrogation of detainees in Camp Nama as far back as 2003. The interrogations were so harsh that five Army officers were convicted on charges of abuse. (McChrystal himself was not implicated in the excesses, but the unit’s slogan, which set the tone for its practices, was “If you don’t make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it.”)

Yanking McKiernan may be our last card to play. And a day late. It’s a truism that Afghanistan can’t be won militarily. Yet it isn’t clear that surging American troops will do anything to create anything but a different form of failed Narco State. And Pakistan’s staggered slo mo collapse looms.

Pakistan, today, is Obama’s War, in the way Iraq was Bush’s War. Although there are no U.S. troops on Pakistani soil, America has implacable enemies there, much as it has implacable enemies in Iraq and in Afghanistan. And although these Pakistani enemies of America–the Pakistani Taliban–are not engaged in direct combat with U.S. troops, there can be no doubt that their war against the fragile Pakistani state is, in fact, a war against America. For the Pakistani Taliban view the Pakistani government as an execrable puppet in the service of Washington.

How tragic that America finally does confront real strategic interests after all these hallucinatory years only after squandering its wealth and means of pursuing effective solutions. The Cult of Hero will seek to rally around McChrystal. We think it’s already too late.

P.S. Pakistan suddenly drops 70 commandos into SWAT. That should do the trick . . .