Runaway General, Unraveling Strategy

Commentary | June 28, 2010

Writing for, EWI Vice President W. Pal Sidhu suggests that the dismissal of General Stanley McChrystal may signal an unraveling of the Obama administration's strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"Obama’s decision has revealed a near fatal fracture between the civilian and military leadership on the counter-insurgency strategy (COIN)," Sidhu writes, suggesting that the civilian perspective emphasizes counterterrorism with few additional troops and a clear exit date of mid-2011, while the military perspective is based on "additional boots on the ground, strict rules of engagement, and a 'need to stay the course until the job is done' attitude."

Such a rift is a major impediment to any counterinsurgency strategy, Sidhu argues. "The strategy will succeed only if military and civilian components are in sync—this has not been the case in Afghanistan," he writes.

The divide between civilian and military leaders is particularly problematic in Pakistan, where the U.S. is losing an essential struggle for influence. "Pakistan’s elite, particularly the military, has been equally taciturn, if not obstructive, in supporting the U.S. COIN efforts, especially against key elements of the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani network," he writes. "Worse, there is a resignation and helplessness in Washington regarding Islamabad’s counter-COIN strategy. The McChrystal fiasco has only exacerbated this situation and weakened Washington’s influence over its alleged ally."

"With a bickering US security establishment, a resurgent Taliban and a treacherous ally, Obama’s Af-Pak war strategy is at risk of coming apart," Sidhu concludes. "Only concerted effort at the highest levels and a lot of good luck might make this motley choir sing from the same sheet. But this might prove to be an impossible mission even for a totally focused Obama."

Click here to read Sidhu's column on