Magazine article USA TODAY

Rethinking McChrystal's War

Magazine article USA TODAY

Rethinking McChrystal's War

Article excerpt

MICHAEL HASTINGS' Rolling Stone article on Gen. Stanley McChrystal provides an absorbing insight into the conduct of the war in Afghanistan, civilian-military relations in the U.S., and the counterinsurgency (COIN) that has preoccupied strategy studies and foreign policy conferences over the last year. Gen. McChrystal was the central character here, but actually is a mere catalyst for a much larger and more important discussion.

Gen. McChrystal should have been--and was--relieved of his duties, not because of incompetence or even because of the insubordination reflected in his comments to Hastings, nor because of the people he selected to be the inner circle, who also were insubordinate and unreflective in their remarks in Hastings' presence. McChrystal's position as the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan was a consequence of the Peter principle at work. McChrystal's strengths lie in field application of a strategy, not in its development and propagation.

Actually, the Hastings' article, as a whole, is laudatory toward the General. It shows that he is intelligent, well trained, experienced, and knowledgeable. His counterintelligence thinking is on the right track. It is just that his skill set is not the right fit for the interface between the military and civilian sides in the U.S. system. He is a fighter, not a synthesizer.

Hastings' article was far more complex than many readers realize. The focus has been on what has been considered a display of insubordination by McChrystal and his immediate circle, but the piece also is critically observant with regard to the nature of war itself and to the matter of strategy as expressed in the counterinsurgency doctrine.

Let us address the counterinsurgency matters first, even though this theoretically is a process that would be shaped by the larger strategy. Marine correspondent Andrew Lubin describes the counterinsurgency process as involving four stages: clear, hold, build, and transition. Hastings describes McChrystal's approach to this with the phrase, "think of the Green Berets as an armed Peace Corps."

This is a critical issue in war fighting today. You cannot arm the Peace Corps. Green Berets, by virtue of mentality and training, cannot be the Peace Corps. Little attention has been given to the transformation of the military that has evolved since 1978 with the ending of the use of draftees to fill out the military's ranks. By virtue of having an all-volunteer military, the nature of the force was transformed These are not "our boys" anymore. They are our warriors, a term that increasingly is being employed by the media.

A New York Times story on Gen. James N. Mattis, newly appointed head of Central Command, describes him as a "warrior's warrior." The designation could be applied to Gen. McChrystal as well. Both men and many others have come to command over a professional military--and an enormous force of private security contractors--whose lives are focused on waging war. It is not a temporary assignment and requires men and women whose lives will be driven by the fighting that war entails. They did not sign up to be community organizers and do not necessarily have those skills--and there is nothing in this argument that disparages the Peace Corps. In fact, an approach much like that of the Peace Corps is a critical part of counterinsurgency--build and transition. …

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