Afghanistan’s 15 Minutes of Fame?


Whether or not Obama decides to sack General McChrystal today, the president is unlikely to use the opportunity to change the overall course of his Afghanistan strategy. None of the sniping and lockerroom insults captured in the Rolling Stone piece questioned the tactics or resources that Obama has dedicated to the war. And the counterinsurgency approach that Obama has embraced in the country has basically been what McChrystal has wanted all along. And the administration is unlikely to reconsider its basic plan—an increase of 30,000 new troops until July 2011, when Afghan security forces are supposed to start taking over.

But maybe now really is the time to be asking the tough questions about how Obama’s war is going—and what both civilian and military commanders could be doing better. It certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing over the last few months, as Spencer Ackerman explains:

The past two months in Afghanistan have been brutal. Since returning from a Washington summit with Obama, President Hamid Karzai acrimoniously parted ways with two of his top security officials, men trusted by the U.S. who believe Karzai’s attempts at outreach to the Taliban to bring the war to a close represent capitulation. A United Nations report released this weekend documented a rise in violence in southern Afghanistan ahead of a crucial attempt at pushing the Taliban out of Kandahar, the south’s most populous city.

McChrystal had to slow down his push to provide what he calls a “rising tide” of security for Kandahar in order to secure buy-in from residents, as Karzai pledged his support for the operation at a mostly supportive local shura only last Sunday.What remains unclear from any Kandahar planning is the effect even a successful operation will have on the overall strength of al-Qaeda’s allies in Afghanistan — and al-Qaeda itself, across the border in Pakistan.

Thomas Friedman also has a blistering column today, accusing Obama of failing to answer basic questions about the surge:

If our strategy is to use U.S. forces to clear the Taliban and help the Afghans put in place a decent government so they can hold what is cleared, how can that be done when President Hamid Karzai, our principal ally, openly stole the election and we looked the other way? Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others in the administration told us not to worry: Karzai would have won anyway; he’s the best we’ve got; she knew how to deal with him and he would come around. Well, I hope that happens. But my gut tells me that when you don’t call things by their real name, you get in trouble. Karzai stole the election, and we said: No problem, we’re going to build good governance on the back of the Kabul mafia.

The McChrystal flap has already ignited more news coverage and punditry about the US strategy in Afghanistan than we’ve seen in many, many months. (“This morning everyone in Washington everyone is a war correspondent,” tweeted Slate’s John Dickerson as the Rolling Stone article was first making the rounds.) I suspect that the attention will be fleeting, given the increasing brevity of the news cycle (remember Elena Kagan?) and lawmakers’ own interest in keeping the focus on the economy and domestic issues in a tough election year. But the war effort could certainly benefit from the heightened scrutiny and demand for accountability that we’ve seen in the last 24 hours. Wishful thinking, perhaps?

Update: All the major news networks are reporting that McChrystal has been relieved of his command and will be replaced by General David Petraeus, who is currently heading up US Central Command.

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate