We woke up Monday morning to Bob Woodward's piece in The Washington Post revealing details of Gen. Stanley McChrystal's report to President Obama on Afghanistan strategy. As luck would have it, we had three guests in our first hour with a few things to say about the McChrystal memo. Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, was with us. And so was Lawrence Wilkerson, the retired US Army colonel who was Colin Powell's chief of staff at the State Department from 2002 to 2005, and who has since become a prominent critic of the Iraq war and of the strategy in Afghanistan.
Wilkerson finds the idea of adding more troops to Afghanistan, even with a new counterinsurgency strategy, unpromising to say the least. "I don't see how we, with present troop levels, or even increased troop levels, can accomplish these objectives," Wilkerson said. On the question of a deepening U.S. commitment, he said:
I see this as a recipe for another situation where 18 months to two years down the road, we're examining our navels. And trying to figure out, why the heck did we do this? Because we're no further down that road than we were at the present time.
In fact we may even be in a worse situation. We've got an illegitimate government now, by our own making.... We are now, as we were in Vietnam, supporting an illegitimate government. We are an occupier. The Afghans are going to grow more and more discomfited with us, the longer we stay….
Those Vietnam echoes kept coming back during the course of the hour. Later, we were joined by The New Yorker's George Packer, who writes in the current issue about Richard Holbrooke, the special U.S. representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and how Holbrooke's early experience in Vietnam helped shape his approach to the Af-Pak mission. Packer told us that he and Holbrooke spoke a lot about Vietnam in their conversations, and that the Obama administration is quite aware of the ghosts:
I can assure you that when the administration carried out its strategy review earlier this year, Vietnam was on their minds.... The strategy review was worried that this could be, you know, the LBJ syndrome of gradual escalation that leads to political disaster at home.
Packer went on to offer his own guess at what Holbrooke may be aiming for, based on their conversations:
My guess is, and it's only a guess, is he is shooting to get into a situation where negotiations are going to happen. That's what he ended up trying for as a junior member of the state department in Vietnam, and I'm guessing that is the ultimate goal here — that politically, he wants to get the United States into a situation where bringing in Pakistan, bringing in some of the other neighbors -- including Iran and India, maybe even bringing in China -- there's a regional solution that gives Pakistan certain security guarantees. And in exchange Pakistan begins to push its friends in the Afghan Taliban toward a negotiation that could lead to a political settlement. I don't think Richard Holbrooke imagines we're going to win this war militarily.
The full hour with Ellsberg, Wilkerson, and Packer is well worth a listen. Tell us what you think.