May 13, 2009

Building the Team

The New York Times and the Washington Post have dueling profiles of General McChrystal this morning. Neither are terribly illuminating. (The general likes to run!) Our friend Roger Carstens floats an interesting point, though, which is that McChrystal has spent his career "killing people" and has never really worked in a counterinsurgency environment. Eh ... I do not think that is true. A better answer would be that General McChrystal has only worked one very narrow end of the spectrum of counterinsurgency operations. His special operations forces played a significant role in Iraq in 2007, for example, which I'll mention again a little later in the post.

Elsewhere, Max Boot -- always among the more intellectually honest of the thinkers known as "neoconservatives" and someone I admire -- has an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times largely praising the team President Obama has assembled for Afghanistan. He has one paragraph in particular that warms my heart:

I would not go as far as to claim, as Bob Woodward did in "The War Within," that it was the special operators rather than the "surge" that turned around Iraq. Victory in a counter- insurgency depends more on securing the populace than on targeting enemy leaders. I am told that McChrystal realizes that, even if Woodward does not.

True. Just because the role played by special operations forces in the Surge is an untold success story -- perhaps the untold success story -- does not mean that the fundamentals of counterinsurgency are somehow changed. Again, I think it is apparent in both my blogging and in my media appearances that I am a fan of General McChrystal and -- no disrespect to General McKiernan -- am optimistic about this new command team. David Ignatius noted something else interesting in his column today:

And the Pentagon has named as a key strategist Col. Chris Kolenda, a man who became something of an amateur ethnologist during his last tour in Afghanistan. A year ago, I heard Kolenda give an unforgettable briefing that chronicled the local tribes and clans near his forward operating base in northeastern Afghanistan. Kolenda and other commanders have learned the hard way what drives the insurgency: The social cohesion of Afghanistan collapsed during decades of war.

Kolenda is indeed an awesome officer, but it's not just him. Generals McChrystal and Petraeus are putting together an entire cadre of smart officers with Afghanistan experience -- Brigadier General Mick Nicholson, Colonel Michael Howard, etc. -- who can rotate back and forth between the United States and Afghanistan so that we always have a group of officers who understand the dynamics of eastern and southern Afghanistan in an in-depth way. This augurs well for the future -- I just hope we make it through the next year.

Okay, now you get what you've all been waiting for. Here's me explaining to Rachel Maddow how to pronounce the name of this blog:

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Update: George Packer muses on McChrystal and Kilcullen here.