When the general shared his thoughts on the war in Afghanistan and the Obama administration, he started a conversation that needed to happen.
In March, General Stanley McChrystal, leader of the NATO war effort in Afghanistan, announced a significant change in the strategy to beat the insurgency: Burger King, Dairy Queen, and Pizza Hutwould no longer be welcome at Kandahar airbase.
Unfortunately for the general, this bold action was overshadowed by his own slippery statements just three months later. On June 25, Rolling Stone hit the newsstands with an article entitled, “The Runaway General,” which included such gems from McChrystal as:
We’ve shot an amazing number of people [in Afghanistan].
I never know what’s going to pop out [of Vice President Joe Biden’s mouth].
The article quoted McChrystal and his advisers routinely criticizing the office of the presidency. The comments were unacceptable to American political leaders of all stripes, as they undermined the neutrality of the military. As a result, the general was asked to resign – which he did.
It was a moment that will be seen in 2010 as the first salvo against the status quo in Afghanistan.
McChrystal’s replacement is General David Petraeus of COIN (counter-insurgency) strategy fame. Yet the challenge is great for Petraeus, and the Rolling Stone scandal that precipitated McChrystal’s demise muddied the waters: nothing was taboo anymore. Afghanistan was back on the front pages, and the strategy of “more of the same” was facing more and more criticism.
Just one month later, Wikileaks dropped another bombshell on the U.S. administration by publishing over 90,000 previously classified documents about the war. That led to even more questions over the number of civilian casualties, the role of Pakistan, and the increasingly confused direction of military planners.
This swirling tornado of negative headlines has affected U.S. public opinion. Today, only 36 per cent of Americans back Obama’s Afghanistan policy, down from 46 per cent in February. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari (without a leg to stand on) was quoted as saying that NATO was losing the war. Holland recently pulled out its troops out, and, with the atmosphere as it is, other nations will likely be doing the same soon, including Canada.
What McChrystal’s interview revealed, and subsequent events have further substantiated, is that there is no clarity on the future in Afghanistan. The war effort has been exposed as a runaway freight train.
It is still unclear as to how this will all play out, and ultimately what the impact on Afghanistan will be. Certainly abandoning the country would be devastating, both there and internationally. But McChrystal’s loose lips helped move the conversation into the open, and ultimately this is for the better.