Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, yesterday clarified that he accepts the call from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and national security adviser Jim Jones to keep his advice to the president on Afghanistan strategy private. And his aides further specified to me that he doesn’t have any additional public speaking engagements on his agenda. Last night, Gates reiterated that McChrystal would be sent to Capitol Hill to testify on Afghanistan strategy as soon as President Obama reaches a decision about possible changes to the U.S. overall strategy there. So that should be the next we see from McChrystal as the pseudo-controversy from his London speech cools off.
Except for a previously filmed interview. On Oct. 13, next Tuesday, excerpts from a chat McChrystal had with PBS’s “Frontline” will be included in its (excellent) documentary about both the Afghanistan war and the debate surrounding it, “Obama’s War.” It will probably seem to the public that McChrystal is speaking after Jones and Gates’ mild admonishment. And if so, that might actually help McChrystal.
On camera, McChrystal doesn’t say anything politically charged. In four appearances — ‘Frontline’ sent me a screener today of the documentary — McChrystal makes an observation about holding the volatile southern province of Helmand (”Once you clear something and don’t hold it … I would argue that it’s worse. Because you create an expectation, and then you dash it”); another about the difficulties of the war (”There will be as many frustrations as there are times when you think you got it right. But, I think there’s no alternative”); another on Pakistan (”I think they’ve also found the resolve internally”); and finally on the value of the public debate — much as he said in London:
Any war or conflict you enter where you are likely to lose more Americans and expend more treasure is something worthy of very detailed debate. There ought to be a lot of skepticism. There ought to be a lot of discussion. Before an American soldier is put in harm’s way, I hope that not just that political leadership, but the American people give it a lot of thought. So I think it’s appropriate.
The full transcript of McChrystal’s interview is already posted on the documentary’s Website. In the interview, as in London, McChrystal declines to get drawn into saying that Obama should increase troops:
Do you have enough troops?
In the “oil-slick” technique, as you know, you go where you can — the highest value areas, typically population centers and whatnot — and then you go out from there. And we’re going to have to do that in accordance with our priorities. …****
Are you requesting new troops to come in? … Do you know where you need more?**
… What we do is we take those forces that we have, particularly mating them with the Afghan National Army [ANA] and Afghan National Police [ANP], and try to grow from there, with the troops that we have trying to maintain enough security in each area. We hope that over time the force requirements in the latter parts of hold-and-build will go down, and in fact will shift to just the police. But it takes a long time. Could be months, could be years in some areas before you could go all the way down to typical status quo security.
If anything, the starkest assessment in the documentary doesn’t come from McChrystal, but from Brig. Gen. William Mayville, his director of operations:
How does this end? And how long is it going to take?
We’re going to leave here under shades of gray. We’ll have stability — at least reasonable stability. We’ll have a firm understanding that more has to be done. But in the end, you’ll have an Afghan solution to an Afghan problem. And that’ll be good enough.