General Stanley McChrystal’s kamikaze interview had the desired effect. He was sacked and replaced by his boss General David Petraeus. But behind the drama in Washington is a war gone badly wrong and no amount of sweet talk can hide this fact. The loathing for Holbrooke (a Clinton creature) goes deep not because of his personal defects, of which there are many, but because his attempt to dump Karzai without a serious replacement angered the generals. Aware that the war is unwinnable, they were not prepared to see Karzai fall: without a Pashtun point man in the country the collapse might reach Saigon proportions. All the generals are aware that the stalemate is not easy to break, but desirous of building reputations and careers and experimenting with new weapons and new strategies (real war games are always appealing to the military provided the risks are small) they have obeyed orders despite disagreements with each other and the politicians.
Obama’s surge was always supported by Stan and Dave but not by General Eikenberry, the ex-boss of both men and currently ambassador in Kabul. His view has been vindicated by the stalemate and the price being paid. All the media-hyped advances are illusory. US and Nato casualties are rising each week; most Europeans and many North American citizens are opposed to the war and favour withdrawal; different factions of the Taliban are preparing to take power; Iran has been alienated by the sanctions and will not play ball any more; the Northern Alliance is a busted flush, its leaders busy, like the Karzai brothers, making money. And lithium reserves notwithstanding, it is becoming more and more difficult to sustain a Nato presence in the country. Pakistan’s military is in permanent talks with the Taliban leadership and a desperate Karzai has asked the US to remove Mullah Omar and the old Taliban leaders from the list of ‘terrorists’ so they can travel freely and participate in the life of the country. Eikenberry’s response: we are prepared to consider each request on its merits but no blanket amnesty. That too will come.
In the US the mid-term elections loom ahead and Netanyahu is expected soon at the White House to help shore up AIPAC support for the beleaguered Democrats. The talk in Washington is that losses will lead Obama to get rid of Gates at the Pentagon and Rahm at the White House. What nobody appears to have noticed is that McChrystal wears a lean and hungry look. Would he be willing to go for the Republican nomination?