Wednesday, July 07, 2010

McChrystal's command style

Steven Metz gives an overview of the faults in Gen. Stanley McChrystal's command style in the specific context of the Afghanistan War (Why General Petraeus Is Better Suited for Our Afghanistan Mission Than General McChrystal Ever Was Entanglements 06/24/2010):

Had General McChrystal's configured his organization solely with the destruction of the enemy in mind (as with his Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq, which undertook what the military euphemistically terms "high-value targeting"), his command climate would have been well-matched. But its mission was counterinsurgency, a practice that requires its own skill sets, techniques, and procedures, and, finally, a unique and uniquely sensitive, politically sophisticated command climate.

The cliché contains a kernel of truth: the predominance of the political and the psychological distinguishes counterinsurgency from conventional warfare. Physical effects—what the military calls "kinetic" action—matter less than intangible and mostly psychological outcomes. The complexity of all this cannot be overstated. As a precondition for success, a commander and his organization need to cultivate different perceptions and expectations among multiple and very different audiences. They must persuade the enemy and its supporters that the insurgency has been doomed to failure but also that laying down one’s arms and surrendering offers honorable and realistic options. They must convince local allies—in this case the Afghan people, government, and security forces—that the United States will support them, given certain conditions but regardless of consequence. And they must convince the American people and their elites that the counterinsurgency deserves public support and, indeed, will culminate in something other than a bloody and protracted stalemate or defeat.

Put simply, a strategic communicator ought to know how to communicate. Some military leaders, even supremely talented combat commanders like General McChrystal, have been tested and found wanting in this regard. While there were already rumors swirling within the officer corps to this effect, the explosive Rolling Stone article makes this truth plain for all to see. The command climate at McChrystal's headquarters was keyed to fight a war, but hardly attuned to the psychological and political elements of strategic level counterinsurgency.
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