There are many things that might be said — and have been said — about General Stanley McChrystal’s utterly unprofessional comments about his civilian bosses, including President Obama, the commander-in-chief. Many have already noted that the Uniform Code of Military Justice makes clear that such comments are out-of-bounds:
Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”
We’ll probably know in a matter of days whether the general will be cashiered.
But the general’s sniping also makes clear what many critics of Obama’s Afghanistan policy have been saying for months now: the war isn’t going well. Indeed, it may be unwinnable. If McChrystal were winning, it’s unlikely he’d be freely sniping about his superiors to a reporter.
After the dust settles over whether he stays or goes, the debate over Afghanistan will begin anew. Despite the objections of McCrystal and others, the president said recently that he will stick to the timetable he laid out earlier for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. He should.
The deeply entrenched problems of that backward country — including a corrupt leader, Hamid Karzai, draw too many uncomfortable parallels to Vietnam. Our counterinsurgency strategy relys on helping Afghanistan to quickly create a functioning central government that the trust of villagers in far-flung provinces and supports local governments that provide services. However, the Afghan government seems incapable of that. And the US cannot do it for them and shouldn’t try to.
Perhaps this war could have been won if President Bush had devoted his time and attention to it after the invasion in 2001. But he didn’t. He allowed Osama bin Laden to escape to the mountains of Tora Bora while he went after Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with 9/11. Now, as we struggle with a deep recession, the American people are tiring of a war in a distant land. Especially one that doesn’t seem winnable.