The first official visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Washington last week offers a convenient opportunity to assess the current Russian-U.S. relationship. Since assuming office, one of the priorities of U.S. President Barack Obama and his foreign policy team has been to improve ties with Russia and other foreign governments that had become alienated from the United States. Relations between Washington and Moscow became especially strained in 2007 and 2008 following the acute confrontations that arose over the planned U.S. missile defense deployments in Poland and the Czech Republic, Russia’s August 2008 War with Georgia, and other issues. Despite […]

WPR on France 24: The World Last Week

I had the pleasure of participating on France 24’s discussion panel, The World This Week, on Friday to recap the stories of the week: the G-20 summit, the McChrystal firing, the elections in Guinea, and the politicization of soccer. The other guests were Matthew Saltmarsh of the IHT, Célestine Bohlen, and Michael Kirtley. Part one can be found here. Part two can be found here. This was one of the rare times I’ve participated on this program where, upon leaving the set, I wasn’t immediately struck by everything I should have said, or how I might have expressed what I […]

Watching a president dismiss a senior general inevitably calls to mind Abraham Lincoln, who during the Civil War sacked generals left and right until he found one who served his purposes, and Harry Truman, who famously fired Gen. Douglas Macarthur during the Korean War. Unlike his predecessors, who removed generals either for their performance or due to disagreements over policy and strategy, President Barack Obama let Gen. Stanley McChrystal go because McChrystal had permitted a command environment that led some of his staff to crudely dismiss the president’s advisers. As if to underscore the continuity in policy and strategy, Obama […]

Finding an Afghanistan Exit Strategy

I’ve consciously avoided commenting on the broader subject of Afghanistan strategy over the past six months for three reasons. First, I agreed with the Obama administration’s December 2009 strategy review. Second, even if I didn’t, it seems counterproductive to relitigate the decision at the appearance of every news item that suggests things might not be going as planned. Third, any strategy takes time to assess, and will often defy momentary appearances. So yes, Marjah was a disappointment, the Kandahar “offensive” has anti-climaxed before it even began, and it seems that the insurgency has made inroads into Afghanistan’s northern, non-Pashtun provinces. […]

Are the deck chairs being reshuffled on the Titanic that is the Afghan war? First, Afghan President Hamid Karzai forced the resignations of his interior minister, Hanif Atmar, and the head of his intelligence services, Amrullah Saleh. Next, the U.K. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Sherard Cowper-Coles, went on indefinite leave, turning over his post to his deputy. Now, in the aftermath of the infamous Rolling Stone profile, U.S. President Barack Obama has removed Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, replacing him with Gen. David Petraeus. What is interesting to note, of course, […]

Obama vs. McChrystal-Petraeus: Bigger than Both of Us

On any number of levels, whether interpersonal or interagency, the necessary conclusion to be drawn from the McChrystal episode is that national security in an age of full-spectrum stabilization operations is “bigger than both of us.” Clearly, Gen. Stanley McChrystal failed to internalize the primacy of civil-military unity of effort, no matter how often or how well he tried to sell the merits of population-centric counterinsurgency to his own troops and outside observers. Just as clearly, Gen. David Petraeus wrote the book on that unity of effort. Also just as clearly, McChrystal was forced to work with, and Petraeus has […]

The McChrystal Myth: Does He Really ‘Get’ COIN?

I’m not going to spend too much time piling on to the McChrystal story, which one way or another will be resolved in the next few days. I do want to address one recurring theme of the commentary, though, which is this idea that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, despite having royally blundered regarding the Rolling Stone profile, really “gets” COIN and is the best man for the job in Afghanistan. The problem is that when you go through the Army’s vaunted counterinsurgency field manual (.pdf), McChrystal, as revealed in the profile, is guilty of a failure in leadership on the most […]

The Soaring Cost of Supplying NATO Troops in Afghanistan

A Congressional report, released Monday, detailing how taxpayer money is going into the pockets of Afghan warlords in return for protecting NATO truck convoys has drawn attention to an immense logistical problem in Afghanistan that gets only intermittent attention: resupplying NATO forces in the conflict. Hopefully the House will broaden its investigation to take in the broader issue of the cost and security of the resupply lines themselves. The high cost of providing American and other allied troops with everything from ammunition to condoms is a key reason why keeping a soldier on the ground there costs almost double what […]

As if to provide yet one more piece of evidence of the Afghan tragedy, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released a report yesterday showing the devastating effects of domestically produced opium on Afghanistan’s own population. It complements other studies (.pdf) that have highlighted the suffering that Afghan opium, heroin, and other opiates cause in other countries. Taken together, the reports make it clear that solving the Afghan drug challenge will require a comprehensive multilateral approach. Yesterday’s UNODC report (.pdf), entitled “Drug Use in Afghanistan: 2009 Survey,” confirms a pattern seen in the international evolution of the […]

McChrystal and the Afghan Drawdown

The first thing that occurred to me about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s ill-advised Rolling Stone profile is that it pretty much guarantees that the July 2011 drawdown schedule will stick. For that reason alone, it might make sense for the Obama administration to fire McChrystal, not immediately, but on the installment plan, by letting him run out the clock until then. The second thing that occurred to me — and this gives you an idea of how badly the leaked quotes reflect on the state of civil-military relations between McChrystal’s command and his civilian superiors — is the parallel between the […]

‘An Ally In Kabul Going Rogue’

Fouad Ajami, the director of Middle East Studies at the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, talks with Peter Robinson of the Hoover Institution about the United States’ partners in Kabul. Ajami says that Karzai has no interest in the Untied States leaving Afghanistan and his motivation to usurp U.S. resources has made him a rogue ally for U.S. leadership.

War is Boring: Training for Afghan Forces Accelerates Ahead of 2011 Deadline

On Monday, an Afghan suicide bomber blew himself up outside a NATO police-training facility in Kandahar. The blast opened a hole in the wall that allowed two more suicide bombers to race into the compound. Afghan police opened fire, killing the two bombers before they could set off their explosives. In addition to the three bombers, one American trainer was killed and three police were injured. The attack was a reminder of the extreme dangers faced by Afghan security force trainees and their NATO instructors. The bombing also underscored the growing importance of Afghan security forces, nearly nine years into […]