Conservatives Back McChrystal

In the most direct challenge to President Obama’s indecision on Afghanistan so far, House conservatives yesterday said that the president should end his delays and adopt the recommendations of Gen. Stanley McChrystal for a troop surge and counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) introduced five RSC members who are military veterans: Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), Pete Olson (R-Texas), Tom Rooney (R-Fl) and John Fleming (R-La).

Price said, “We’ve come together today because a decision being made right now by the president carries dramatic and significant consequences, both for our troops and our long-term security. The question is how we will move forward in Afghanistan. If we’ve learned anything from our recent experiences in warfare, it’s that military decisions should be made by military leaders, on the ground, not politicians in Washington.”

Duncan D. Hunter — the son of retired House veteran Duncan L. Hunter — quit his job shortly after 9-11 and joined the Marines.  He served three combat tours as an infantry officer, two in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.

Asked if he saw an option — different from the troop surge and counterinsurgency strategy McChrystal recommended — Hunter said it wasn’t for Congress to second-guess the general.  “McChrystal asked [for] 40,000 minimum. It was 40,000 or more. I’m not going to conjecture on whether there’s better strategy than what he recommends, because what we have to do here is we have to listen to him, and say we put him there for a reason and we’re going to do what he says if it’s within bounds obviously, which it is. So I don’t see any other options to go in there and be totally victorious without doing what he’s asked us to do, without supplying him what he’s asked for.”

Coffman is also a Marine, and a bit older. Having served as an infantry officer in Iraq in the Gulf War of 1991, Coffman went back as a civil affairs officer after the 2003 invasion.  Coffman said, “The tipping point is getting the Afghan army to take our place, and part of General McChrystal’s report is training up the Afghan army. That’s absolutely critical. So the issue is just like in Iraq, that there’s a tipping point, that as Iraqi security forces have taken over our role, Afghan security forces will also take over our role in that country.”

Florida Rep. Tom Rooney is a linebacker-sized former Army officer and West Point instructor.  Rooney voiced the concern that the soldiers now serving in Afghanistan are being left in limbo by the president’s indecision.  He said, “What our men and women in uniform need right now is support moving forward from our commander in chief and this Congress. You can sit there and say that hindsight is 20/20, we should have done this or we should have done that. What those guys that are out there right now, manning posts and going on patrols — cold and homesick and wondering what support they have from this country and this Congress and this commander-in-chief right now — the message needs to be clear that from now on, moving forward, their interests are going to be foremost in our minds in Washington, D.C. regardless of what’s happened in the past.”

Texas’s Pete Olson is a former naval aviator who flew over Iraq enforcing the “no-fly” zones between wars. Olson’s concern is the time which is being consumed by the president’s elongated decision process.  He said, “General McChrystal, the best general we have in our entire military, has said if you give me the resources I need, when we get going, 12-18 months, we can be victorious, we can make a change here. We’ve eaten up 3 months just talking at the White House. We don’t have time for that. It’s time for the president to act, to be the commander in chief, to give General McChrystal the resources he needs, to fight, to win the battle.”

Fleming is a medical doctor who served six years in the Navy.  Fleming, like Olson, is getting impatient with Obama’s indecision.  He said, “You know, we have three choices: one, we can pull out, in which case we will lose, and then, again, we will have terrorist threats to our borders. We can go forward with General McChrystal’s recommendation to 40,000 more troops, get the surge done just as in Iraq and come home victoriously, or we can continue to under-resource this war and see more Americans die than what we have to in this country.”

McChrysal made his written report on August 30 without — at the president’s direction — asking for a certain number of troops. That number was further parsed out — again at the president’s request — into three different “low,” “moderate,” and “high” risk options. But there is only one option to these House conservatives: the one McChrystal wants. And that means a classic counterinsurgency strategy with at least 40,000 more U.S. troops.

It’s pretty clear that the longer the president stalls, the more it is apparent that he is desperate to find a way to give McChrystal less than he wants, less than he needs.  As I’ve written before, “McChrystal lite” is the worst possible choice, for it will mean more casualties than are necessary, and a longer war.  

Today, House conservatives stood with the general in command in Afghanistan.  President Obama is the commander in chief. He can fire McChrystal, impose his own strategy, and take the responsibility for the disaster that results.  Or he can do as his hand-picked general recommends.  Which will it be?

Some day, eventually, President Obama will have to decide.