Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.

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Cheap shots

Q: The ex-commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan was replaced after talking trash about other officials. Can leaders ever be excused for such excesses? In a broader sense, is success possible for the U.S. in Afghanistan, and how would you define it? Or, as someone said early on in Vietnam, should we simply "declare victory and leave"?

The behavior of Gen. Stanley McChrystal in giving a careless and irresponsible interview to Rolling Stone Magazine is an apt metaphor for the war in Afghanistan. Incomprehensible. Self-destructive. Unwinnable, no matter how righteous the original intent.

McChrystal might be forgiven for having misgivings and frustrations with the war, the politicians who created and continue the war, the slippery notions of who is really the enemy, the vague and ultimately untenable measures of success. Afghanistan may be a worse mess than Vietnam because the purpose has become even more obscure and the targets more elusive.

Soldiers complain all the time, but McChrystal's choice to launch his blistering rant in Rolling Stone seemed to be, at best, a cry for help. He had to know that his choice of communications medium to let his boss know about his unhappiness was just all wrong. Deep down, perhaps he yearned to be fired, or perhaps the ennui of the hopeless war warped his judgment. He clearly dared President Obama to react, and Obama did exactly the right thing in relieving McChrystal of the top command.

I'm only sorry that his superiors did not send him back to Afghanistan to serve out his tour of duty in a position on the ground with the troops. Retirement seemed like a too-easy escape hatch for a guy whose claim to being a soldier at heart should have been borne out in his willingness to pay a more fitting price for violating the military code of conduct.

President George Bush launched the war in Afghanistan to find Osama Bin Laden and "bring 'im to justice." Nine years later, Osama is nowhere to be found and most likely is not in Afghanistan. Bush launched a parallel action in Iraq for supposedly a similar purpose, with disastrous results.

While Iraq is winding down, the quagmire in Afghanistan becomes a deeper pit each day -- civilian casualties mount, the Karzai brothers get richer, and the Taliban become more ferocious. Neighboring Pakistan has become even more dangerous. Like the sad demise of American power in Vietnam, we continue to try to fight unconventional enemies with conventional ideas about war and power.

For nearly half a century, the U.S. has been unable to secure convincing "wins" in wars fought against unconventional, asymmetrical enemies, and there's no reason to think we can prevail in Afghanistan when the real enemy isn't even there, by all accounts.

McChrystal was wrong to betray his military professionalism with cheap shots in Rolling Stone. But in an ironic way, his bizarre conduct has exposed the even more bewildering nature of this unwinnable war. Perhaps the best result will be fulfillment of President Obama's pledge, publicly supported now by General Petraeus, that the troops must come home.

By Patricia McGuire  |  July 12, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Defining success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Never say never. It is possible to find Osama Bin Laden, just like was possible to find Saddam Hussein. It is possible to educate and empower the female population there; they will win the war against that male dominated theocracy. What's the name to describe those that give up too soon ? Defeat.... ( I don't want to be censured)

Posted by: ThishowIseeit | July 14, 2010 1:55 PM
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