McChrystal Fired: Happy Taliban, Happy ISI

In an earlier blog post, before Obama fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, I said the US president had two choices: Accept McChrystal’s resignation and appear thin-skinned. Reject it and look like a wimp.

When Obama took the thin-skinned option, public opinion was surprisingly supportive about McChrystal’s ouster.

There are many reasons why kicking out McChrystal based on a shoddy piece of one-sided reporting, written in testosterone-driven prose and published in a pop-culture magazine was NOT a good idea.

The best reason is best described in the New York Times piece, "Pakistan Is Said to Pursue a Foothold in Afghanistan," by Jane Perlez, Eric Schmitt and Carlotta Gall.

Obama’s overreaction to published locker-room quotes has handed the Taliban, its al Qaeda friends and their Pakistani state intelligence backers their biggest PR coup in years.

Haven’t they always maintained that “the Americans” are too divided, too fractious, too encumbered by democratic forces at home to ever win this war?

Haven’t we always known that the entire shadowy Pakistani military intelligence complex, captained by the ISI, is simply biding time so they can move in once “the Americans” pack-up and scram?

Haven’t we read the online militant messages, their shabnamas - or night letters - warning ordinary Afghans that if they place their bets on the losing, democratically divided Americans, they will have to pay when the Taliban rides home triumphant - backed by drug money, al Qaeda freelancers, and the state backing of a friendly southern neighbor?

That’s not news.

What’s news in the New York Times article is that Pakistani Army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and the Pakistan’s spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha are shuttling between Islamabad and Kabul, trying to convince hapless Afghan President Hamid Karzai to make a deal with the Haqqani network.

The Haqqani network?!

More alarming is the US civilian reaction to this. The article quotes US special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke, as saying, a deal between the Haqqanis and the Afghan government was “hard to imagine” before adding, but “who knows?”

Who knows?!

Why, Holbrooke should know. He’s Mr. US civilian honcho, the diplomat who’s supposed to work the political sphere in Afghanistan.

Any surprise then that in the Rolling Stone article, Gen. McChrystal did not want to read Holbrooke’s email?

Roll out the civilian surge – finally please

The Rolling Stone article essentially pits the US military arm in Afghanistan against its civilian branch and suggests that McChrystal’s bullying crushed the US civilian effort.

We have been crying for nearly a decade for a well-formulated, efficiently implemented civilian surge. It’s never happened. Washington is “throwing money at the problem” fueling “a tsunami” of corruption, in the wise words of Andrew Wilder, an expert at Tufts University, quoted in the Rolling Stone article.

So, I’m waiting to see what the civilian suits are going to achieve in Afghanistan now that they’ve got their troublesome military man out of the job.

The only good news is McChrystal’s replacement, Gen. David Petraeus. I look forward to his quiet, firm dealings with a lamentably lost Karzai, isolated in his presidential palace, every time the Pakistani military and intelligence chiefs come calling.

Petraeus can handle Kabul. Islamabad though is a different ball game, one that Washington has lost for more than 60 years.


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