By Mike BakerPresident, Americas and Co-Founder, Diligence/Former CIA Covert Field Operations Officer
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is very adept at the mechanics and politics of running organizations, whether the CIA or the Defense Dept. He is essentially reading the tea leaves with this change in command -- Afghanistan is a mucky mess and the administration needs to show they are serious and involved in charting the course of the war over the next few years.
Nothing says change like dismissing your top commander in the area of operations.
The removal of Gen McKiernan and installation of Lt. Gen McChrystal works on both a political and strategic level. On the political front, nothing says change like dismissing your top commander in the area of operations. This is a highly unusual step and shows the level of concern inside the administration over Afghanistan and its potential to go completely off the rails.
On the strategic front, the only thing conventional about the war in Afghanistan is how ugly and difficult it is. Unfortunately for Gen McKiernan, an old school conventional armor guy, Afghanistan, like Iraq in many ways, is an unconventional battlefield requiring a counter-insurgency gameplan. Lt. Gen McChrystal's experiences more closely mesh with what will be needed if we hope to defeat the Taliban in any meaningful way. Which of course leads us to ask... We've changed command, now what?
The Taliban is a resilient, commited and brutal enemy that has no interest in compromise.
The notion that we can find moderate Taliban to work with is a fool's quest and distracts from the real question; do we fight this war to win or are we looking for an acceptable exit? Is our goal to crush the Taliban or do we just want to ensure that Afghanistan doesn't again become a safehaven for Al Qaeda?
Which of course leads us to Pakistan, the current Al Qaeda safe haven and a case study in how not to deal with the Taliban. Anyone still harboring thoughts that the Taliban on either side of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border can be brought in to a lasting peace process should review recent developments in that troubled and unstable country. The Taliban's goal is to consume Afghanistan and Pakistan, and they are perfectly willing to outlast us. We need to decide what we have the stomach for.
If the new commander of our forces in Afghanistan is going to realize success, perhaps the administration first needs to define success. I've yet to see anyone explain the endgame in what President Obama implied during his campaign was the right war for us to fight.