Monday, July 28, 2008

McKiernan's redemption

Over the last few months as Gen. McKiernan has moved towards and started to make his presence known in Command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan to lead NATO forces, I have been pondering something that I have not yet read much about WRT the background story. I don't think I am alone in noticing something about the man and his story in this war that demonstrates the moral indefatigable nature of the man.

Perhaps a quick overview is in order for those who don't quite know where I am going. Those who have kept a close eye on the leaders in this war, especially the post-2003 Iraq invasion portion, and who have read
Fiasco, Cobra II, or other books great and small about the invasion of Iraq and its planning, should have a solid understanding of Gen. McKiernan and his place in this war and its history/mythology. If not, you need to do some reading - I'm not going to review it all here for you.....but I'm a nice guy, so let me help a little to get you up to speed.

In 2003, then Lt. Gen. McKiernan was the Commander of the Combined Forces Land Component Command (CFLCC or "Sif-Lick")/U.S. Third Army (yes, Patton's Army). Now, hold that thought and let's take a snapshot of his then Lt. Gen (3-stars) contemporaries over a half-decade ago.
  • SECDEF Rumsfeld and Dep. SECDEF Wolfowitz - gone.
  • CJCS Gen. Myers - retired.
  • Dep. USCENTCOM and the USCENTCOM Gen. Abizaid - retired.
  • Commander V Corps, Gen. Wallace - TRADOC Commander.
  • Commander 1 Marine Expeditionary Force, Gen. Conway - Commandant of the Marine Corps.
  • Commander 101st ABN Div, Gen. (then 2-star MG) Petraeus - Commander, USCENTCOM (designated).
  • Commander US CENTCOM Air Forces (CENTAF) - Gen. Moseley - just fired/resigned as Chief of Staff for USAF.
  • Commander 1st Marine Division, Gen. (then 2-star MG) Mattis - Commander, Allied Command Transformation.
  • Commander US Special Operations Command, MG (then BG) Harrell - retired.
That is just a few - none of them are in combat roles. Many, Mattis and Petraeus, have been promoted over and through him. McKeirnan just put on his 4th-star after being a 3-star since JUL 01 - almost 7 years. As COM 7th Army/USAREUR has hasn't been in the wilderness per se - but in a global war he has in a way been watching others fight the war - and watch his one-time subordinates move up and forward.

There is a lot to admire in the man. He could have retired or turned bitter like the Revolting Generals - or just drifted to a farm and retirement somewhere. He didn't though, he kept at it - serving where and how he could, waiting for the call to bring him back to the front.

I wonder, as a 3rd Army guy, if Gen. Patton's time in the wilderness between the slapping incident and the post D-Day breakout was in his mind. Probably, as his name for his plan for the invasion of Iraq was Cobra II - Cobra I was Patton's 3rd Army run through France after the breakout.

How much of that was in his mind, I don't know - what I do know is that he has been given a second chance. As COMISAF, he is commanding at a time of increasing risk at all three levels; Tactical, Operational, ands Strategic. He also, unlike his time in Iraq, is getting significant forces coming his way - if you can read between CJCS Mullen's and the CINC's lines right. The hints are all over the news. Don't know how soon they will get there - but at least he knows they are coming - if not for him, for his relief.

AFG is a growing challenge and one where I think we have the right man at the right time for the USA. As for our ISAF allies - they on a whole just don't get it, and many like Germany won't and will not turn to the sound of gunfire. They will argue and tie you up in War College/Academic discussions on the "Comprehensive Approach" until the enemy is at the gates because no one ever reviewed Step 1: a safe & secure environment. No, it will be up to the Anglosphere nations and its auxiliaries to reach the right End State in AFG - Gen. McKiernan will set the foundation for that.

As a note of full disclosure, in the past, I have had the opportunity to work in close proximity to/with Gen. McKiernan. He has never owned paper on me though, but I have seen him work personally, and those who have worked directly for him have the greatest respect for the man and his quality. I am optimistic.
As a added bonus - I cannot emphasize the importance of and treasure trove of inside knowledge there is in Amb. Thomas Schweich's article from last week, Is Afghanistan a Narco-State?

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