Gen. McChrystal is a good soldier

After the politicization of military 'recommendations' by the Bush administration, Gen. McChrystal's candor is as welcome as his new strategy.

Daniel Larison

As President Obama weighs his strategic options in Afghanistan, media reports and administration critics have been manufacturing a drama of insubordination and dissent from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan. In a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London earlier this month, McChrystal challenged conventional assumptions about the war and outlined his view of the campaign against the Taliban. The general flatly critiqued the minimalist, "counterterrorist" approach preferred by newfound skeptics of the war, including, reportedly, Vice President Joe Biden, and he made a cogent case for population-centered counterinsurgency, which recognizes that winning the support of Afghan civilians is the key to success.

This was not insubordination; it was frank advice. Subsequent news that Obama has been quietly deploying an additional 13,000 troops to Afghanistan underscores the extent to which the president has been listening. McChrystal prefers his counterinsurgency approach to the more dramatic, but ultimately counterproductive, use of air power and drone attacks. Airstrikes can reach targets that are out of range of ground forces, and they expose our forces to little or no immediate risk. But they also contribute to what counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen, a former advisor to Gen. David Petraeus, calls the "accidental guerrilla" phenomenon. In short, this mode of killing insurgents can actually multiply, rather than reduce, their number by inciting family members and bystanders who previously had no stake in the fighting.

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Daniel Larison has a Ph.D. in history and is a contributing editor at The American Conservative. He also writes on the blog Eunomia.