Saturday, February 13, 2010

McChrystal and Marja

If General Stanley A. McChrystal actually makes a success of the Marja invasion — which is to say, actually keeping it rather than just conquering it — I might become a convert to the Obama plan for Afghanistan. One thing McChrystal already is doing which I find quite encouraging is redefining Afghans for the troops.

Typically, when an army invades a country, the inhabitants automatically become "the other." Military training encourages such thinking, which makes it possible for soldiers to kill efficiently without excessive guilt. McChrystal is making a concerted effort to teach his troops to discriminate between enemy fighters and civilians, minimizing civilian casualties. His effort to help the troops understand that "the population is the prize" is almost completely novel in the history of warfare. Will it work? We'll see.

I'll also be interested to see McChrystal's "government in a box, ready to roll in" when hostilities subside. If he truly has managed to locate enough non-corrupt Afghan administrators and policemen to run Marja without alienating and antagonizing the locals, that would be another genuinely novel accomplishment. Will he be able to come up with more, to govern the other towns in the Helmand River Valley that will need to be pacified? What will keep them honest, right there in the midst of Afghanistan's most important opium growing region, once NATO forces have moved on?

Frankly, I'm not especially hopeful — but I suppose there's no choice but to give McChrystal a chance.

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