commentary

(ForeignPolicy.com)

November 13, 2009

When Generals and Ambassadors Feud

by James Dobbins

Take it from this former ambassador: Disagreements over the war in Afghanistan may do more long-term harm than short-term good.

In 2007 in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker set a model for civil-military collaboration: They never let daylight show between their positions—not to outsiders, not to official Washington, not even to their own staffs. In providing differing advice to Washington over troop levels in Afghanistan, General McChrystal and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry have diverged from this model.

Ambassador Crocker wisely recognized that the U.S. president, the congress, and the American people were looking primarily to Gen. Petraeus and his 160,000 troops to secure Iraq, and only secondarily to Crocker and his 1,000 diplomats and aid workers. Crocker chose to fight his policy battles not in Washington, but in Iraq. Petraeus for his part, was very sensitive to the need to secure unity of effort with his civilian partner, and to harness the expertise of his large and competent staff. McCrystal and Eikenberry don't seem to have established the same chemistry....


James Dobbins, the Bush Administration's first envoy for Afghanistan, directs the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation. He is the author of After the Taliban: Nation-Building in Afghanistan.

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This commentary originally appeared on ForeignPolicy.com on November 13, 2009.