The Real McChrystal Problem

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While Stanley McChrystal and his inner circle may be quick to mock and insult senior Obama administration officials, that explosive Rolling Stone article featured very little substantive disagreement between McChrystal’s team and President Obama’s stated Afghanistan strategy. But in reality the military is awfully skeptical of Obama’s July 2011 target date to begin drawing down U.S. troops from the country–a point the article’s author, Michael Hastings, spotlighted in a radio interview this morning. Here’s a key passage from his article:

Instead of beginning to withdraw troops next year, as Obama promised, the military hopes to ramp up its counterinsurgency campaign even further. “There’s a possibility we could ask for another surge of U.S. forces next summer if we see success here,” a senior military official in Kabul tells me.

Yes, and I suspect we may see another surge request–or at least a request for nothing more than a token draw down–regardless of whether the war effort is succeeding. (The Iraq surge, after all, was an admission of failure–not an effort to build on success.) That may not be a unanimous view within the military, but I think it’s well-enough represented that even sacking McChrystal won’t resolve this fundamental tension. As summer 2011 approaches, the stakes are going to be a lot higher than the name-calling captured by Rolling Stone.