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What Would McChrystal Say to an Antiwar Member of Congress

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) doesn’t buy into the new Afghanistan strategy. She worries that if Gen. McChrystal doesn’t make the progress he thinks he needs to make in six months, a year and 18 months, he’ll just come back to Congress and make minor adjustments — that he’ll never say the situation is hopeless even if it ultimately is. What, she asks candidly, could McChrystal tell a skeptic like her?

McChrystal responds — well, not exactly with a smile on his face, but with a seeming recognition that persuading skeptics, and not browbeating them, is part of his job. History teaches there are a “tremendous number of unsuccessful efforts to defeat an insurgency,” he concedes (more bluntly than most counterinsurgents, I might add). But he said there is “great reason for optimism,” stemming from “the nature of the insurgency.” The Taliban’s experience in power proves it is “not credible as a political entity now.” Polling data and anecdotal interactions prove the Afghans “don’t want the Taliban back,” and only time they acquiesce to them is when they have no credible alternative. For years, as the Taliban and associated insurgent groups gathered strength, that “was not met by increasies in Afghan national security forces in strength levels or in coalition forces.” Counterinsurgency, he allows, “is not a game in which we play catch-up ball.” The key, McChrystal said, is to get ahead of the game.

Whether that will convince Pingree or anyone else is unclear. But McChrystal appeared eager to engage the question respectfully.

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