Our fortunes in Iraq began to turn around when the 3rd Armored Cavalry
Regiment ran a classic counterinsurgency operation in the town of Tal
Afar, between Mosul and the Syrian border.
The nine month campaign begun in May of 2005 turned an al Qaida
stronghold into one of the most peaceful, pro-Western communities in
Iraq. It "will serve as a case study in classic counterinsurgency, the
way it is supposed to be done," a retired intelligence officer told the
Washington Post's Tom Ricks.
It did serve as a blueprint for the strategy employed by Gen. David
Petraeus throughout the country after the troop surge.
The 3rd ACR's success in Tal Afar was a product of the brains and
courage of its commander, then Colonel, now Brigadier General H.R.
A decade before, BGen. McMaster had displayed brains and courage of a
different sort with the publication of his book, "Dereliction of Duty."
The thesis of the book is that members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff knew
President Lyndon Johnson and his Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara,
were pursuing a strategy in Vietnam based on domestic political concerns
that was likely to lead to defeat, but none resigned in protest. All
preferred keeping their jobs to their country's honor and the welfare of
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the man President Obama chose to command in
Afghanistan, may soon face the kind of test of character the Vietnam-era
Joint Chiefs failed. Gen. McChrystal has made clear what he thinks is
needed to turn around our deteriorating fortunes there. But President
Obama is reluctant to commit the resources necessary to implement the
strategy he signed off on in March.
Gen. McChrystal wants to implement a counterinsurgency strategy like
that which worked in Iraq. He says he needs up to 40,000 more troops to
do it. He sent an urgent request for them at the end of August, but the
president has dithered.
Democrats fear if more troops are sent to Afghanistan, the war will
divert attention and resources from President Obama's domestic agenda,
as the Vietnam war did from LBJ's. Vice President Joe Biden has
proposed an alternative strategy in which most U.S. troops would be
withdrawn. Reliance would be placed instead on attacks on terrorist
leaders by aircraft and drone missile strikes.
But Gen. McChrystal has said this won't work. And President Obama also
fears the domestic political consequences of a withdrawal from
Afghanistan, especially in light of all the things he said during the
campaign about the importance of victory there.
Perhaps the worst thing we could do is "McChrystal lite," to formally
endorse Gen. McChrystal's strategy, but then to deny him the resources
needed to make it work.
A story in the New York Times Tuesday suggests this is the direction in
which Mr. Obama is leaning.
"Meeting with leaders of both parties at the White House, Mr. Obama
seemed to be searching for some sort of middle ground, saying he wanted
to 'dispense with the straw man argument that this is about either
doubling down or leaving Afghanistan,'" wrote reporters Peter Baker and
"This is typical Obama pabulum," said Jennifer Rubin of Commentary
magazine. "Both sides are extreme and he, the voice of moderation, will
step in to split the difference. But this doesn't work in a war when
the middle ground, as we learned in both Afghanistan and Iraq, is not a
"This sort of willful obtuseness is deeply troubling because there
simply isn't any viable military/strategic rationale for what the
president is straining to do," Ms. Rubin said. "It's a political
approach plain and simple. He wants money for health care, and he
doesn't want a revolt on the Left."
If President Obama opts for a strategy Gen. McChrystal thinks will lead
to defeat, he has a difficult decision to make. As a serving officer,
he must obey any lawful orders the president issues, even if they are
stupid and dangerous. And as a serving officer, he shouldn't publicly
criticize decisions the commander in chief makes.
But, as the Wall Street Journal said in an editorial, "no commander in
uniform should ask his soldiers to die for a strategy he doesn't think
is winnable -- or for a president who lets his advisers and party blame
a general for their own lack of political nerve."