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After McChrystal, time to change course in Afghanistan

Gen. Stanley McChrystal has submitted his resignation. Or he's been fired. In any case, it was time for him to go. His departure will help slow the increasing erosion in civil-military relations -- aided by both political parties over the last 20 years -- which has threatened civilian control of the military.

It also means we can now turn to a more fundamental exit debate: How do we change course and craft a responsible strategy to end the war in Afghanistan?

It is critical we have this debate. Here's one good reason: McChrystal's top aide believes this war is unwinnable. In the most important quote in Rolling Stones' fascinating article, Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville argues that the only way we win in Afghanistan is to redefine failure as victory: "It's not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win. This is going to end in an argument."

So, instead of redefining failure as victory, shouldn't we be debating how to fundamentally change course? More than six months after the implementation of the Obama/McChrystal strategy, and with one year to go before the beginning withdrawal of U.S. forces, it's clear that the strategy is failing on nearly all fronts. Can we wait until July, 2011 to alter course? I don't believe -- and, according to recent polls, Americans agree -- we can justify the shedding of U.S. and Afghan lives and the spending of billions on a misguided and counterproductive strategy that lacks a clear, achievable mission, and isn't in our national security interest.

Now that the runaway general has paid for his latest public act of insubordination, isn't it time we demand that the entire strategy be fired?

By Katrina vanden Heuvel  | June 23, 2010; 1:40 PM ET
Categories:  vanden Heuvel  | Tags:  Katrina vanden Heuvel  
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Next: Advice Gen. Stanley McChrystal should have followed


LOL that you seriously think "the shedding of ... Afghan lives " will stop because we run away.

Posted by: wjamyers | June 23, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Again we get a rich white trust-fund liberal telling us what is good for us.....

The author is to the left of Kim Jong-il, a committed antiAmerican and as air-headed as any leftist who never held a real job can be......

Thank you WashPo....words by Katrina vanden Heuvel will be worth many GOP votes in the Fall!!!

Posted by: georgedixon | June 23, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse


Again we get a rich white trust-fund liberal telling us what is good for us.....

The author is to the left of Kim Jong-il, a committed antiAmerican and as air-headed as any leftist who never held a real job can be......

Thank you WashPo....words by Katrina vanden Heuvel will be worth many GOP votes in the Fall!!!"


And both are infinitely better human beings than you or your war criminal heroes GWB and Lich Cheney.

Posted by: dcp26851 | June 23, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Vanden, what in the world do you know about COIN, about combat, war, about anything in the military? Why do you want to leave Afghanistan so bad? Typical left wing rhetoric.

Posted by: ksgbobo | June 23, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Hey George W. Nixon, why don't you get your Mission Accomplished banner out.

With all the Republicans apologizing to BP for getting our Gulf in their oil, why do you think God's Only Party has a chance?

Posted by: ottoparts | June 23, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

wjamyers - who tf cares. Don't forget, these filthy sub-humans are the ones who directly or indirectly harbored Osama Bin Laden while he planned the 9-11 attacks. We're nowhere near getting even for that.

Posted by: adrienne_najjar | June 23, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I don't know if leaving is the right strategy, but the military and its leaders have to be accountable to civilian authorities, otherwise we're on our way to being Cuba on steroids. And for the right-wing loons who will be screaming about Obama being held accountable and fired, you get to hold him accountable during the next election. Typical Monday morning quarterbacks.

Posted by: nsu1203 | June 23, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

Seems I just saw or read something by this author concerning what we need to do about the economy. I wonder what it's like to be a genius in so many fields?

Posted by: MikeMcLamara | June 23, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Now the airheads have spoken. Can we move along to the adults?

Posted by: lerois | June 23, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

What strategy is being proposed as replacement?
Replacing McChrystal with Petraeus was a brilliat move, at least politically. Getting out of Afghanistan leaving only chaos behind is certainly not a winning strategy in the long run, however satisfying it may seem now. The return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan would be rightly perceived by all extremist groups in the region as huge victory and will probably lead to an exponential growth of those groups in Pakistan.
Any strategy that does not take that into account is a recipe for serious trouble in the not too distant future.

Posted by: serban1 | June 23, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

katrina doesn't care what the afgan men do to their women...
one day after the fall of civilization katrina will find herself chained to a wall stripped naked and whipped into submision...
kareina may ask how it happened...
her contribution against our military helped...

Posted by: DwightCollins | June 23, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Gen McChrystal was wrong in being public and needed to go. He and his aids were right in their assessment of the President and his liberal helpers and their inability to make a decision or stick with a plan. We need to fix the Afghan situation, not cut and run. The same people who screamed about the Iraq surge not working are now taking credit for it. McChrystal was right in wanting to surge in Afghanistan but he and his team were hamstrung by the administration and their half hearted decisions. Too bad, it will just get a lot more Afghan's killed when they once again erupt into chaos with the dejected withdrawl of the US.

Posted by: schmitt_fam | June 23, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

If the military leadership on the ground says this thing is a no win situation, then we need to pack up and go ASAP. Don't spend another dime. Stop the drones in Pakistan with all the civilians dying. Each time we make a mistake the relatives back here in the United States are angered.

Worried about the influence of Iran if we leave? The Taliban and the Pakistani were much closer. If we mend relations with Pakistan we mend relations with Afghanistan.

Posted by: DESIGN-2-REPLACE | June 23, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

When the primary mission doesn't involve killing the enemy in huge numbers, then there should be debate about why the military is doing what it is doing.

Posted by: JohnnyGee | June 23, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Bravo, Katrina. Spot on.

Posted by: kemosabe32 | June 23, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: SarahBB | June 23, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Since expending American lives and money to prop up a corrupt, unpopular regime worked so well in Vietnam, Obama has decided Afghanistan is worth the effort. Considering how much success the British and Russians had there, who can blame him?

Posted by: john65001 | June 23, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

This is the best thing that could have happened to the United States.

Now is the time to pull back our troops to safe areas and wait for the Afghan government to step up to the fight.

The United States can turn it attention to fighting terrorists as even the general with his poorly thought out strategy admitted that only the Afghan government could defeat the Taliban.

As for the approval of the general from the Afghan government this can be thought of equivalent to approval of Mexican drug gangs for appointees of the Mexican government appointed to fight the drug trade.

The comments regarding COIN should read the Rolling Stone article and might understand that COIN is a failure. When NCO's are at odds with the strategy and tactics of commanding officers there is a major problem. What worked in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan.

Posted by: bsallamack | June 23, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I have no idea why Katrina can't seem to understand anything - there is NO CHANGE of direction in AFG nor will there be. Gen P hated Obama's timeline scenario more than McC did - and he will push to make he gets more troops and has the timeline removed. As for insubordination - this hardly fall into that area - or he'd have been court martialed. Katrina doesn't have a clue - best to keep her ill informed opionions to herself.

Posted by: HarleyQuinn1 | June 23, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

By the way Katrina - while you harbor contempt for Pres Bush - you should note that the only message Obama has sent -- Per Jeff Emanuel "that is stronger than the one about Obama’s utter lack of understanding about what actually happened in Iraq while he was busy trying to oppose the effort there at all costs, is that Obama really believes doing exactly what he thinks George W. Bush did is the way to win wars that are vital to our nations security".

So Bush had it right all along.This must be driving his leftie loser base crazy!
Waiting for to reprint their "General Betrayeus" ad!

Posted by: HarleyQuinn1 | June 23, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

AfPak policy is fundamentally irrelevant in Hindu Kush, and I've argued against it since its inception. Principally because Pak/ISI is not true to its American allies and (only) strategically interested in Taliban takeover of Kabul Govt - subservient to Pak/ISI.

Strategically Afpak policy will create a real political vaccum in southasian subcontinent when Obama decides to withdraw (2011?) - leaving India (Iran) to replace US presence to undermine Pak/ISI designs on Hindu Kush.

Posted by: hariknaidu | June 23, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Nice spin job. There is no erosion in civil military relations. This is all on Obama. His background is community organizing which is one notch above delivering pizzas. He has no business as commander in chief at a time of war. The whole thing was doomed at descision one when he decided to pursue afghanistan without the troop levels requested by the top general. Why wouldn't you give the general 100% of the resources he is requesting? Only incompetent people make stupid decisions like that. It was only a matter of time before things started to unravel.

Posted by: peterg73 | June 23, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

I will give Vanden Heuvel credit. She is the only liberal in the media who is still talking about troop withdrawel and ending the war and is critical of Obama on this. Where are all the other liberals who castigated Bush and demanded the withdrawel of the troops. Obama decided to escalate a war in Afghanistan for what good purpose no one knows!

Posted by: bobilly2 | June 23, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

The only course we should be setting in both Iraq and Afghanistan is the course home.

End both wars. There is no al-Qaeda there, and we as a nation, should not be involved in projecting force halfway around the world to fight in their civil wars.

Keep up the black ops war on al-Qaeda - who are primarily in their base of funding, volunteers, and religious fanatic Wahhabi madrassas - Saudi Arabia. And in Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia.

Use nukes if you have to. Two would do the trick.

Posted by: WillSeattle | June 23, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately for the US. McChristal's attitudes towards the present president of the US, is a show to the world. That the powers that seem to be, in the bastion of humanity's freedom, still do not think a human being with Obama's skin color deserves to give orders to his "masters" and expect compliance.

Or respect for the guiding principles of the best social contraption ever fashioned in human history by human beings. The US Constitution. When the face attached to it looks like President Obama's.

You only need to look at statements from senior elected members of the Republican party to know this.

President Obama has also played the usual role of the black man in America. Even when the rest of humanity sees in technicolor that what is happening is an open, unbridled manifestation of race hate, we are quick to call it something else. To keep our jobs or placate those powers that we are more accommodating of hate than that. We do a disservice to America for such to do.

This has happened to Mr. Bush before, but not at this level of public disdain 3 times in less than a year. Mr. Bush was decisive about dealing with such gross affront on the US Constitution; except when Mr. Bush is the one assaulting the Constitution.

I have read someplace that McChristal is indispensable!? to the war effort? This I disagree with because America is a blessed land of zillions of talents waiting to be discovered. If Petreaus and McChristal had not been given the opportunity they would still be waiting like others yet to be discovered in the US Military.

My take is good riddance to bad rubbish. Time to bring back our brothers and sisters. Let American exceptional ism and technology deal with whatever is left of alquaeda in Afghanistan.

Sorry I don't believe we need to still be there today as those who killed our brothers and sisters 9/11/2001 are now in Pakistan.

Posted by: saveusconstitution | June 23, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

But Katrina......this is the war that you Lefties said was the one Bush should have engaged in, instead of Iraq? OK -- now you Lefies have been in charge of it for 18 months, and what do we have? 2 fired generals, lots of dead American kids, a failing war, and the General you all hated in 2007 now in charge!! Wow!!! Obama owns this one now....he better hope that Petraeus can do in Afghanistan what you Lefites claimed was impossible in Iraq.

Posted by: CREEBOLD | June 23, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Another illogical offering.

Katrina carps about "erosion in civil-military relations" and offers...what? evidence? Nothing, but it fits her worldview. Who needs supporting data?

As for changing course in AFG, is there even a hint of a suggestion from our master strategist? Of course not. She just knows she wants out, just like she wants "out" of having to spend money on Defense (see her last article).

Posted by: cynicalidealist | June 23, 2010 9:04 PM | Report abuse

I'll bet even Obama knows that our fight in Afghanistan is a fool's errand, but he is reprising the Johnson/McNamara role of lying to the American people and sending soldiers out to be killed and maimed for no reason except that his own ego prevents him from admitting mistakes. As with Johnson and Vietnam, Afghanistan is going to keep Obama from getting re-elected -- even if the alternative is a horrorshow like Barbour/Palin.

Posted by: rebecca81 | June 24, 2010 7:53 AM | Report abuse

For those of you making disparaging remarks about Ms. Vanden Heuvel's post, I suggest you read the excellent book, "Three Cups of Tea." The people we are fighting in Afghanistan are not "filthy sub humans." In fact they are superior to us in many ways. Also, we can never win a war there. No one ever has, and we certainly cannot. The US is dreadfully in the wrong, and there is no way to make it right, but the least we can do is get out now and offer safe haven to all Afghanis who have helped us and whose lives will be in danger as a result of our withdrawal. America has to rethink its position in the world. It is time for us to adapt to a changing world. By forcing the world to bend to our will we are only feeding the fires that will continue to build until they incinerate us. Let's save our nation and adapt. By the way, I served in the US Navy, so I know a little bit about the military. It is a monsterous bureaucracy that is not suited to the 21st century. I'm sick of this talk of supporting the troops. Bring the soldiers home and put them to work fixing our infrastructure. Declare a "war on our internal decay." That's support enough.

Posted by: robertaaustin1 | June 24, 2010 9:16 AM | Report abuse

This is classic anti-war 1960s liberal rhetoric. The anti-war liberals are and will continue to be Obama's biggest problem which is ironic to say the least since he is one of them. Obama excoriated George Bush's surge in 1997. Now he is compelled to use the same tactics to win "his" war in Afghanistan. On this issue Obama's support is coming from moderate Democrats and conservative Republicans much to the discomfort of the looney left who want everyone to agree with them or they will take their ball and go home. There is a big difference between being a loud mouthed community organizer spewing venom at George Bush with impunity from the liberal media and being president of the United States responsible for the security of the country. The Annointed One is getting a harsh lesson in reality.

Posted by: Rotbart | June 24, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

"...which has threatened civilian control of the military."

What? How has civilian control of the military been threatened? The President just fired his senior wartime commander without a peep from the military establishment, thus displaying the ultimate civilian control. You have no clue what you're talking about.

Posted by: wadeb123 | June 24, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Where's the right to free speech here? The press used their freedom of speech to get McChrystal into trouble. Have they been punished? The General should have had his wrist slapped privately and sent back to do his work in Afghanistan. Civilian interference with the military surely brought about the shame of Guantanamo Bay and the killing of innocent people by drones in Afghanistan.

Posted by: bstephens1 | June 24, 2010 10:06 AM | Report abuse

"The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people," says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. "The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense."

This one of the rare examples of sense in the discussion of our war in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, Colonel MacGregor is retired and has no influence on policy.

Our war in Afghanistan is already the longest war in American history! After deposing the Taliban in quick order after we invaded, we have made no progress in remaking Afghan society along secular democratic lines -- despite the loss of over a thousand American lives and the expenditures of vast sums of our wealth. We have made no progress in defeating the Taliban as the most potent political force in Afghanistan. Why not?

The answer lies in the fact that Afghanistan is a very religious Moslem country. The population is imbued with the doctrines of Islam. Their loyalty is to Islam. Their hearts and minds are devoted to Islam. And, yet, none of our political leaders, none of our military leaders and none of our learned journalists ever mention Islam. Doesn't Islam make a difference? Don't the doctrines of Islam play a role?

Apparently, they do, indeed, play a role. The official name of "our" Afghanistan is "The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan". The constitution of "our" Afghanistan says specifically that no law may be passed which contradicts the doctrines of Islam. In "our" Afghanistan, apostasy and blasphemy require the death penalty -- in accordance with Sharia law. Therefore, "our" Afghan government is dedicated, must be dedicated, to promoting the doctrines of Islam.

Well, the Taliban is dedicated to that same goal! The only difference between the Taliban and the rest of the Afghan population is that the Taliban wants a stricter implementation of Shariah law. But, all of them want Sharia law to be the basis of state law.

With the Koran, the sayings of Muhammad and sharia law on their minds, the Afghan population views us, non-Moslems, as enemies -- no matter how kind and generous we are to them, no matter how many schools, canals, roads, government buildings and, yes, mosques, we build for them. None of that counts in winning their hearts and minds because their hearts and minds are shaped by and devoted to Islam. Any policy based on our winning their hearts and minds is doomed to failure. Therefore, it does not make any difference whether McChrystal or Petraeus commands our forces there.

Our only interest in Afghanistan is to prevent that territory from becoming a staging ground for international Islamic terrorism like it was before we overthrew the Taliban government. If necessary, we can always go back in.

Posted by: Montedoro | June 24, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

McChrystal delivered a very important message to the White House, the Pentagon and the country, but President Obama shot the messenger and nobody got the message. Maybe you understood something. McChrystal acted on purpose, giving right of speech to troops he daily listen to. He said: We are warriors, not social workers. Our weapons are not flowers. Because of the rules of engagement, division reigns inside american forces on the ground. What is needed it is soldiers trained to struggle hand to hand, with knifes and without air support. Those who shoot at us are always civils, it is the art of war they apply, and if we answer their fire, we will be courtmarshalled.
McChrystal's victory will be to see his boss Petreaus write a second book to explain why the winning strategy applied in Iraq cannot win in Afghanistan.

Posted by: domagaya | June 25, 2010 9:36 AM | Report abuse

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