After 9 years, a quagmire

McChrystal’s remarks are a reflection of the war’s deterioration

The hubbub over Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s impolitic remarks to a Rolling Stone reporter—among other things, he referred to “the wimps in the White House”—is just one of two events this week that have cast a spotlight on the deteriorating war in Afghanistan. The other was the revelation, via a congressional report, that the private security contractors protecting military convoys there are paying millions of dollars a week in “passage bribes” to the Taliban and other insurgent groups to travel along Afghan roads.

That bribe money is reimbursed by the U.S. government, which means it is funding the very enemies our military is trying to defeat. How crazy is that?

Meanwhile, down in Marjah, so far no good. The plan was to liberate this town in Helmand Province and install a local “government in a box” to provide security, education and economic development before moving on to liberate Kandahar. As it turned out, the box contained six Kabul bureaucrats. Now the Taliban have regrouped and are killing anyone who cooperates with the Americans. As a result, Gen. McChrystal—who recently called Marjah “a bleeding ulcer”—has had to postpone the move into Kandahar.

The biggest problem is that McChrystal’s counterinsurgency campaign requires patience, extensive resources and the presence of a reliable local government that can supply services. The feckless and hopelessly corrupt Karzai government is anything but reliable.

In his West Point speech in December announcing that 30,000 additional troops would be sent to Afghanistan, President Obama said that, as commander in chief, he owed the cadets “a mission that is clearly defined and worthy of your service.” Instead we’ve gotten a confused muddle, a long, slow slog in which American warriors are dying in growing numbers.

Meanwhile, most Americans pay it little mind, and the only ones making a sacrifice are service men and women and their families. The Senate deficit hawks who don’t want to extend unemployment benefits or keep teachers on the job for fear of rising debt seem to have no problem sinking $9 billion a month into this swamp.

When we’re spending a fortune to fund the enemy, you know the situation is out of control. McChrystal’s unwise remarks are a reflection of that.