It's not about General McChrystal
While the big new story today is about the fate of General Stanley McChrystal's career, this is just a side drama in what should be a much more important discussion: the fate of the war in Afghanistan.
The Rolling Stones article that reveals McChrystal to be at least unprofessional if not insubordinate is about much more than the general. The scenes describing McChrystal, while shocking, are merely character development, showing a man who is ambitious and intelligent yet also flawed and rebellious. What's lost in the discussion of McChrystal is the conclusion of piece: "Winning, it would seem, is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge."
The question for the American people today should be about our future in Afghanistan, which recently surpassed the Vietnam War as our country's longest war, and the Rolling stone article will give you a great education on some of the competing strategies. McChrystal introduced a counterinsurgency strategy involving a long-term commitment to building the country from the ground up. Soldiers work to gain the trust of the population as much as to kill terrorists. As the article says, "It's 'insurgent math,' as [McChrystal] calls it - for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies."
The problem with this is that soldiers are built for war, as you see in a scene where McChrystal is trying to convince soldiers of the plan. And despite the good words, civilians deaths are up for the first four months this year as well, the article reports.
Also, as any Catholic doing humanitarian work will tell you, it's important to show a real commitment to the area. Catholic humanitarian aid works because the church is already in these locations, they are part of the community, and they are there for good (take a look at our interview with Lesley-Anne Knight, the Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis).
CRS has been in Afghanistan since 1998 (though I'm not sure how strong the church is in this region), but an even better example is the efforts of Greg Mortenson, a former soldier himself. In his books Three Cups of Tea, he talks about his efforts to build schools in Pakistan (and now Afghanistan too) and his efforts to make the schools a project of the community rather than his own.
Mortenson has actually become highly influential in the military, consulting top officials. (His most recent books, Stones into Schools, is still on my reading list, but he's apparently pretty critical of the military efforts in this book.) He tells of rejecting a million dollars from the military for his school project because should the people he works with find out where the money came from, he would lose all credibility.
Similarily, the Rolling Stone article quotes Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations: "The military cannot by itself create governance reform." It also reports the Defense Department budget at $600 billion a year compared to the State Departments' $50 billion.
There's a neat theory called 3D Security: Think of a pyramid with the large base as development, a big chunk of the middle as diplomacy, and the small top as defense. The theory also warns against the militarization of development and diplomacy.
The big question today shouldn't be whether McChrystal should be fired but whether we can come up with some truly rebellious ideas that will help both our country and the people of Afghanistan.