A Tale of Two Generals (With my apologies to Charles Dickens)
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity...." The opening lines of Charles Dickens classic A Tale of Two Cities serve as a reminder of the social parallels that existed between France and London in the years leading up to the French Revolution. Dickens original work was not published as a complete novel but was revealed through weekly installments in the Dickens' literary periodical All the Year Round. Readers who were hooked by the story line had to patiently wait as the drama of Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton unfolded from week to week.
The war in Afghanistan is fast becoming a tale of two generals. For General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in the field, it is the worst of times for the war. It is an age of foolishness, and an epoch of incredulity. It is a time of resurgence for the Taliban and retreat for a unified strategy for victory. Speaking in London just over a week ago, General McChrystal told the Institute of International and Strategic Studies that a military strategy that relied solely on drone missile strikes and Special Forces operations would lead to "Chaos-istan." His comments were directed at Vice-President Biden's recommendation that drones and Special Ops, not more troops, will lead to victory. He also said, "Waiting does not prolong a favorable outcome. This effort will not remain winnable indefinitely, and nor will public support."
But waiting is exactly what General McChrystal is being forced to do as he becomes just one voice in a sea of voices advising the President on Afghanistan. Just five months ago, General McChrystal was put in charge of U.S. and NATO forces with much fanfare and promises of a new strategy in a war President Obama has called, "fundamental to the defense of our people." Also speaking of Afghanistan the President said, "This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America in 9-11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans."
But as pressure from the Left increases and support for healthcare reform, the linchpin of President Obama's domestic agenda, decreases the President seems content to put General McChrystal's recommendations on hold until further notice. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates confirmed that General McChrystal has requested between 30 and 40 thousand more troops but then admitted he is "sitting on the report" until the White House decides on an overall strategy for the war. That may take some time since President Obama has been so busy he hasn't even spoken to General McChrystal more than three times since the initial troop request was made. This stands in stark contrast to President Bush who spoke regularly with General Pretraeus as he worked on a strategy for turning the war around in Iraq.
The President has stressed the need for time for a complete assessment of the war and there appears to be no rush. How unlike the $767 billion stimulus bill which had to be passed so quickly members of congress didn't even have time to read it. It is also unlike healthcare reform, which must be passed this year because the country can't wait a moment longer for government controlled healthcare.
When President Bush called for a new strategy in Iraq General David Petraeus came to Capitol Hill to make the case for a new direction in person. General McChrystal would like to testify in support of a new strategy for Afghanistan but Gates has said there will be no testimony until the White House decides on a strategy. So, let's see if I have this straight. The President doesn't want to read General McChrystal's report on what should be done in Afghanistan and he doesn't want congress to hear what General McChrystal says should be done in Afghanistan until after he decides what he is going to do. This may sound like putting the cart before the horse but it is actually deciding to push the cart after putting the horse out to pasture.
For retired General James Jones, President Obama's national security advisor it is the best of times in Afghanistan. It is the age of victory and the epoch of belief. Speaking on CNN's "State of the Union" Jones said, "I don't foresee the return of the Taliban. Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling." It is ironic that General Jones comments came right after eight American soldiers died in one of the fiercest battles of the eight-year war.
So, which tale of the two generals will President Obama accept? The general in the field who commands the forces in Afghanistan or the general behind the desk who commands the bureaucrats in Washington? President Obama would do well to follow the example of his predecessor and listen to General McChrystal. Iraq is well on the way to being a stable country with a limited form of democracy and a sustainable future. Afghanistan can enjoy the same outlook if President Obama will listen to right general.