Time to rethink military role in Afghanistan

Freedom New Mexico

President Barack Obama was within reason to fire Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal for disrespectful remarks by McChrystal and members of his staff quoted in Rolling Stone magazine. The general was commander of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Frankly, this flap is only the latest in a series of clashes among military and civilian leaders in Afghanistan, as outlined by Eliot Cohen, author of “Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime,” who currently teaches at Johns Hopkins.

As Cohen wrote in an opinion piece: “For Mr. Obama it is the imperative of taking charge of this war and owning it — reshaping the team waging it, and communicating a resolve that, alas, one doubts he actually feels. Failing that, he owes it to the soldiers and civilians we have sent there to liquidate the war and accept the consequences for our country and the region.”

We are reminded of what President Harry S. Truman wrote in his memoirs about when he, confronted with more serious insubordination, fired Gen. Douglas A. MacArthur during the Korean War: “If there is one basic element in our Constitution, it is civilian control of the military. If I allowed him (Gen. MacArthur) to defy the civil authorities in this manner, I myself would be violating my oath to uphold and defend the Constitution.”

Gen. McChrystal’s firing is an opportunity for President Obama, Congress and the American people to reassess what now is our longest war. The president already has committed himself to start bringing American troops home from Afghanistan by July 2011.

The problem is the whole “nation-building” enterprise to turn Afghanistan into a model democracy. Afghanistan is made up of dozens of tribes, speaking different languages, who commonly fight one another — except when they unite to fight invading foreigners. In their long history, they expelled Alexander the Great, the British Empire (twice) and, just two decades ago, the Soviet Union. President Hamid Karzai is only weakly supported.

Terrorists within Afghanistan can be dealt with through other means, such as working with whatever Afghan government arises from the chaos to take care of the terrorists. Or by sending in elite U.S. troops on special, limited missions. But the broad, expansive war currently being conducted should end.