The Corner

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A Quick Reply to Andy McCarthy’s Article


First off, a correction. Andy rightly points out that in my article, I should not have put his description of counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare as a “nation-building, soft-power strategy” in quotes. That is not a direct quote from Andy. I meant only to paraphrase his approach, and I should not have represented it as a quotation.

Yet in reading Andy’s piece, it’s clear he and I have different readings of McChrystal’s plan. Andy calls it an “extravagant nation-building exercise” and argues “the McChrystal plan and COIN are not one and the same.” I disagree that McChrystal’s plan amounts to nation building, and remain unconvinced by his bifurcation of the McChrystal plan and COIN.

I’ve read the McChrystal plan as well, and nowhere does it either mention nation building, or reference actions that amount to nation building. His congressional testimony on Tuesday confirmed this point; in fact, he went out of his way to emphasize that it is not nation building. His plan is a comprehensive counterinsurgency approach, focused on defeating the enemy and supporting domestic institutions that can sustain the fight — so we can leave.

As far as counterinsurgency warfare is concerned — minus local differences — the McChrystal plan in Afghanistan is very similar to the Petraeus plan in Iraq. Petraeus used the surge to build Iraqi capacity — both in security forces and governance — and McChrystal plan will attempt to do the same in Afghanistan. This is capacity building, not nation building.

But at the end of the day, as Andy said of me, I am fundamentally with Andy McCarthy. Few understand the nature of the threats we face better than him, and I could not have more respect for his work.

Andy ended his article by saying, “Regardless of my misgivings, I support our troops and their commanders.” That’s what makes his criticism so powerful; it is born of a patriotic desire to see our troops succeed, and to keep our country safe.


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