McChrystal's "Ground Truth": Need Half a Million Boots on the Ground

Journalist Andrea Mitchell has noted that General McChrystal's report to President Obama calls for 500,000 troops in Afghanistan. [That's not 500,000 U.S. troops, but 500,000 troops overall.] Mitchell correctly notes that if you don't believe that the goals in McChrystal's report for increasing the size of the Afghan army are realistic, that should lead you to question agreeing to send more U.S. troops, because the premise of the request for more troops is that if you add more U.S. troops there's going to be "success," and that success, apparently, requires 500,000 boots on the ground. If you don't believe there's going to be success even if you add more U.S. troops, then you shouldn't add more U.S. troops - you should do something else.

McChrystal has suggested that without more U.S. troops we will "fail" - but the same logic says that without more Afghan troops we will also "fail." If adding the additional U.S. troops will not lead to the required addition of Afghan troops, then U.S. policy will "fail," even with the additional U.S. troops.

Some have dismissed the concern occasioned by Mitchell's comments by saying of course there aren't going to be half a million U.S. troops in Afghanistan. It's certainly true that there aren't going to be half a million U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But supporters of sending more troops have to answer this: to defend sending another 40,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, they have to defend their scenario that there's going to be 350,000 Afghan boots on the ground. Otherwise - according to General McChrystal - their plan is not going to work. Furthermore, they should say now what they will propose then if adding 40,000 more U.S. troops does not produce 350,000 Afghan troops. Do they promise not to ask for more U.S. troops? Would anyone believe such a promise?

Those who fear a slippery slope don't have to point to a hypothetical future. If you look at the debate happening in Washington, it's clear that we're already on the slippery slope. It's already being argued that it's "too late" to revisit the decisions that President Obama made earlier this year - under pressure from the military. We're committed, they say. Can we trust supporters of military escalation not to argue in six months that "now we're really committed"?

They wanted a surge; they got a surge. Their surge didn't work. In particular, dramatically increasing the deployment of foreign troops did not establish security for the Afghan election. Now they want another surge. How many surges must they get, before we can try something else - like, for example, dramatically pruning our list of enemies, as we did in Iraq, and talking about a timetable for military withdrawal, as we did in Iraq?

Andrea Mitchell: "And the other big issue, of course, that's on everyone's mind, not discussed so overtly, is Afghanistan. And, with the leaks that have come, most likely from the military, about the troop strengths and all this, you have to really wonder, what would people expect? The numbers are really pretty horrifying. What they say, embedded in this report by McChrystal, is they would need 500,000 troops - boots on the ground - and five years to do the job. No one expects that the Afghan Army could step up to that. Are we gonna put even half that of U.S. troops there, and NATO forces? No way.

"So, you have to ask, would you prefer to have a president who doesn't shift strategy when he gets this kind of 'ground truth' from the commanders? Would you like to be locked in, to 8 years, 10 years of this? I mean, I think that those are some reasonable questions before everyone says Barack Obama's shifting position."

The truth matters from time to time. It may hold for some time but it will come out as time passes by.

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