The General and the Ambassador

By: Andrew Wolf

The “escalate-then-exit strategy” the President unveiled in a December 1st speech at West Point had been developed over the course of the past three months as part of a comprehensive review of America’s involvement in Afghanistan. Perhaps two of the most influential men involved in the discussions appeared Tuesday before the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. The New York Times reported that while both men had spent hours at the Pentagon preparing for their testimony, one of the most pointed practice questions that General Stanley A. McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl W. Eikenberry faced was how the two were getting along.

General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry have a somewhat contentious past. Months ago, General McChrystal had requested a buildup in military forces aimed at protecting the Afghan population and developing the country’s infrastructure. He sent his strategic assessment, a report that warned the situation in Afghanistan was deteriorating and necessitated a significant increase in troops, to the White House without having shared it with Ambassador Eikenberry, a fact that annoyed the ambassador. Then, in early November, Ambassador Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who had served as the top military commander in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, sent a confidential cable to Washington indicating his reservations about ordering additional troops to Afghanistan. The Ambassador had in the past been critical of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, his ability to govern, and the corruption linked to his government. According to those who read the cable, the ambassador was wary of sending more troops to the region until Karzai addressed such problems. When the cable was leaked to the Washington Post on November 11th, it caught General McChrystal by surprise and angered his aides who claimed Ambassador Eikenberry never shared his reservations with the general during their frequent meetings together.

Now that the President has announced his strategy for the war in Afghanistan, a plan that focuses on both military and nonmilitary goals, General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry are tasked with working together to carry out the strategy. And in their testimony on Tuesday, it seemed that both officials realized the success of the mission could depend on their ability to put aside past differences and appear united; both endorsed the President’s plan – while acknowledging the high cost of the mission (in money and blood) – and expressed confidence it will lead to success. It will be interesting to see how General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry interact in the months ahead.

For video and text of the President’s speech, click here.

For an in-depth look at the decision-making process, click here or here.

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