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Salvaging a War

Posted by The Curmudgeon on December 2, 2009

Will it be enough?

Digging deeply into the brain cells for memories of my Army days (it has been a few years, after all), I seem to recall the standard approach for dealing with the supply system (and supply clerks) thusly: figure out how much you need, then double that amount and submit your requisition reflecting the inflated figure—and hope that you’ll receive at least half of what you originally sought. It was an accepted truism about military life that we’d never have everything we needed; we saluted smartly and cobbled-together what we could, made do with what we had, and did the best we could with what was available (the true impetus behind that “GI ingenuity” for which soldiers are renowned)—and hoped it’d be enough to get the job done.

We also figured that life got easier the further up the food chain one progressed. Just as it was a given that we’d have to connive and cajole to get what we needed, a few stars on one’s shoulders (that would be general-officer rank) supplanted a lot of begging with some real influence—and what The General wants, The General will get.

Against this backdrop, it’s important to note that Gen. Stanley McChrystal–Barack Obama’s hand-picked commander in Afghanistan–requested forty thousand troops…not the thirty thousand Obama announced he’s sending. (Eventually, that is; it’s going to take several months to start bringing these reinforcements into action—in addition to the three-month delay incurred while Obama dithered and dawdled, trying to make up his mind what to do.) We’re also told now that both McChrystal and his boss Gen. David Petraeus agree that the job can be done with 30,000; while that may be (they’re both soldiers, too; notwithstanding their lofty positions, they also know that padding requests has long precedent), they might also be merely biting the bullet in the wake of a Presidential decision that offers no alternatives. Whatever the case, the resulting situation raises some troubling questions.

Does the commander-in-chief really believe that the additional 10,000 troops aren’t needed—or did he make a political calculation, betting that the smaller force would be more palatable to the left? It’s no secret that ever-louder murmurs are emanating from his liberal base, upset that he hasn’t moved more quickly to end U.S. involvement in the region. It’s an uncharacteristic risk on Obama’s part, though, to slash McChrystal’s request. There’s a very real possibility that under-staffing the coming “surge” will serve only to create a bigger mess—and if the whole operation goes sour, the first question will be: What if he’d given McChrystal those extra 10,000 troops? Conversely, any attempt to blame the military leadership for future shortcomings will yield one guaranteed response from the Pentagon: “We told you so.”

Obama’s delay in announcing this decision has given rise to predictable doubts about our resolve as a nation—and seriously calls into question the President’s own level of commitment to a war that Obama himself deemed necessary…one from which he (again uncharacteristically) left himself no clear line of retreat. While he seems to have not (yet) adversely affected operations directly, the mere appearance of a commander-in-chief seeming so indecisive and risk-averse is disturbing. Is he really going to see this thing through? If so…then, to what end? How will success–or failure–be measured in the coming months? Moreover, he’s now also set a timeline for beginning the withdrawal of forces—potentially setting the stage for a waiting game with a clearly determined foe.

The Obama regime telegraphed a part of its message well in advance of his address: there’s deep concern in the White House about having a credible exit strategy. While it’s become common practice to think in such terms (and it admittedly makes some sense to establish an end-point rather than allowing operations to go on indefinitely), it’s unclear whether the true aim is to identify and accomplish a mission, then withdraw—or if it’s to determine a point at which a graceful and politically-acceptable retreat can be effected. By establishing an arbitrary date to begin withdrawing troops, Obama may well have painted himself into yet another corner should his timetable be upset—ultimately facing a hard choice between reneging on his withdrawal scheme (and further alienating his base) or throwing in the towel and exiting the region with the mission not completed.

And what of the troops assigned to the Afghanistan operation? Have they been consigned to failure, inadequately equipped for an impossible task? It’s a safe bet that there’s growing concern at the sharp end of the stick; seeing the President cut the legs from underneath the very commander he put in place–their commander–is certain to get the attention of soldiers already in harm’s way.

Stanley McChrystal has served this nation well for more than three decades. His credentials are substantial, and his word carries a great deal of weight—though not enough, apparently, for his commander-in-chief. Frankly, a part of me wishes that his answer to Obama would’ve gone something like this: “Look. You specifically hired me for this job. You asked me what was needed—and I answered you promptly. Had I thought the mission could be accomplished with an additional 30,000 troops, I’d have requested that number. I didn’t. I told you that 40,000 were needed. I also told you very explicitly that doing less than I recommended risks failure. So, if you–with your zero experience in military operations–think you can get the job done with those 30,000 troops, then knock yourself out. It’s obvious that my professional assessment backed by thirty-plus years’ experience means nothing to you, so it’s time for me to retire. Good luck, pal; I’m going fishing. Have a nice war.”

Instead, what will now play out is the time-honored practice of soldiers saluting smartly and setting about the business of cobbling-together what they can, making do with what they have, and doing the best they can with what’s available—and hoping it’ll be enough to get the job done.

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7 Responses to “Salvaging a War”

  1. Anonymous said

    Once again, it seems to me that the ignorance/arrogance of the "chosen one" has put the very lives of our soldiers in jeopardy or at the very least the yoke is much heavier. Try explaining a "timetable" toAfghans, most of whom have no use for a calender.As for turning over the reigns to anAfghan army in a "timely fasion", I can onlysurmise that you can't make chicken salad out of chicken (you know what). It would seemthat part of the plan would be to exit only when the replacements were deemed qualified!! Larry

  2. Anonymous said

    Well said, Jim. You covered all bases on thsi oneOur Dear Leader has virtually told the enemy, Wait until June of 2011 and we'll be out of your hair.Lynne

  3. iGrannyLin said

    al Qaeda and the Taliban have safe havens in Pakistan and Afghanistan, crossing the borders at will to attach our troops in Iraq. I don't agree with war, but the al Qaeda attacked us first and it has been EIGHT YEARS and we are now just going after them? Iraq did nothing (except hate Bush); we had no right to attack their country–they did nothing to us. I am ashamed. Good guys don't hit first.

  4. Anonymous said

    I wonder if maybe his INITIAL plan was to pull all troops out within a yr & a half, & he's only conceeded to sending 30K more to make his plan seem more acceptable, pacifying whomever. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, to announce sending 30,000 more troops, then in the same breath announce plans to pull all troops out in 1.5 years,(exceeding 30k – there are additional troops there afterall). Obviously the enemy can wait a piddly 1 1/2yrs til we leave. They spent more time than that training in OUR schools before 9/11! Makes me question; is the intent of sending the additional troops IN, just a concession to his ultimate goal of pulling all troops OUT?Lynda

  5. iGrannyLin said

    What do you expect from a politician, Lynda? The ol' In and Out. I have never seen a president that didn't give it to us. Sorry to be obscene Curmudgeon, but politics are just that. Obscene. It is amazing how we survive them.

  6. Jim said

    If that's considered "obscene"…we're in a lot of trouble.

  7. Dick Norcross said

    Much has been said about how intelligent Barack Hussein Obama is, but I submit that he is really a dumb bastard who happens to be very cunning and deceitful.

    We have no intention of winning, so we should bring the troops home, and minimize the further loss of life, not to mention the continued drain on the taxpayer.

    Why do I think we have no intention of winning? We’ve been in Iraq and Afghanistan longer than it took to mobilize and fight and win World War II.

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