Seemingly with each passing day, General Stanley McChrystal grows in the esteem of President Obama's conservative foes. After having savaged General Eric Shinseki for his pre-Iraq war testimony that the occupation would require "several hundreds of thousands" of American troops, Republicans have seized on McChrystal's public demands for more forces in Afghanistan as their latest battering ram to bludgeon Obama on national security. And as it turns out, McChrystal's inadvertent leak earlier this month regarding a classified CIA analysis puts him in the same company as Republicans John Boehner, Pete Hoekstra, Pat Roberts and, of course, Dick Cheney.
McChrystal in his leaked report and unprecedented public speech in London has put tremendous pressure on President Obama to quadruple the Bush-era commitment to the Afghan conflict. General McChrystal didn't merely announce that short of deploying as many as 60,000 more troops, the U.S. effort in Afghanistan "will likely result in failure." He also set out to demolish straw man alternatives to his escalated counterinsurgency plan, including:
"A paper has been written that recommends that we use a plan called 'Chaosistan', and that we let Afghanistan become a Somalia-like haven of chaos that we simply manage from outside."
But as Newsweek reported, that "paper" to which General McChrystal casually referred is almost surely a classified CIA assessment:
Two U.S. intelligence officials, who asked for anonymity when discussing a sensitive matter, say that the reference almost certainly comes from a recently published, and secret, CIA analysis titled "Chaosistan" (not "Chaostan"). Prepared by a "red team" of CIA analysts, the document, says one official, picks apart conventional analyses of the war and explains how forces inside Afghanistan--from hostile ethnic groups to intrusive neighbors to societal damage caused by past Taliban rule--work against the notions of a central Afghan government. The paper is not quite the policy proposal McChrystal implied it was, say the officials, since intelligence analysts don't generally recommend policy options.
Of course, the same Republican voices which lauded the leak of McChrystal's report and his UK grandstanding will doubtless remain silent now. Because while many in the GOP called for the prosecution of those behind the publication of the NSA domestic surveillance story, they themselves selectively leaked classified national security information for partisan political purposes.
Take, for example, former House Intelligence Committee chairman Pete Hoekstra. Hoekstra, who in 2006 decried "unauthorized disclosures of classified information [which] only help terrorists and our enemies - and put American lives at risk," this February announced a secret Congressional trip to Iraq via Twitter.
But Hoekstra's Tweet ("Just landed in Baghdad") is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Republican penchant for deploying classified intelligence for political gain.
As Talking Points Memo detailed, in the summer of 2007 the Bush administration was pressing for Congress to codify its regime of illegal NSA domestic surveillance. And at the forefront was John Boehner, who warned of a "gap in intelligence" because a FISA court judge had earlier - and secretly - ruled part of the eavesdropping program illegal. In April 2006, Kansas Senator Pat Roberts leaked details regarding Saddam Hussein's whereabouts on March 20, 2003 even as the Iraq war was just getting underway. And, of course, in the politically treacherous summer of 2003, Vice President Dick Cheney authorized the cherry-picked declassification of elements of the 2002 Iraq NIE as part of a campaign to smear Ambassador Joseph Wilson over his public decimation of the White House's "uranium in Niger" canard.
The other irony, of course, is that it was the Bush administration and its amen corner which happily starved Afghanistan of badly needed U.S. forces after 2002 in order to prosecute the war in Iraq. When General Shinseki (now head of the Veterans Administration) made his famous response to a Congressional committee about the force requirements for Iraq, he was forced into retirement after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld blasted his prescient assessment as "far off the mark." By 2008, McChrystal's predecessor General David McKiernan made clear the impact of the Iraq diversion on the under-resourced American effort in Afghanistan:
"There was a saying when I got there: If you're in Iraq and you need something, you ask for it," McKiernan said in his first interview since being fired. "If you're in Afghanistan and you need it, you figure out how to do without it." By late last summer, he decided to tell George W. Bush's White House what he knew it did not want to hear: He needed 30,000 more troops. He wanted to send some to the country's east to bolster other U.S. forces, and some to the south to assist overwhelmed British and Canadian units in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
The Bush administration opted not to act on McKiernan's request and instead set out to persuade NATO allies to contribute more troops.
For his part, Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Mullen, who sacked McKiernan earlier this year, acknowledged the constraints he faced in July 2008:
"I don't have troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach, to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq. Afghanistan has been and remains an economy-of-force campaign, which by definition means we need more forces there."
Representing the Republican about-face is the party's 2008 presidential nominee, John McCain. In November 2003, McCain declared the United States can "muddle through in Afghanistan." In April 2008, the Arizona Senator, who was wrong at almost every point about the invasion of Iraq, defied history and logic alike when he announced, "Afghanistan is not in trouble because of our diversion to Iraq" Now, Muddle Through McCain said after meeting with President Obama to discuss Afghanistan two weeks ago, "Half-measures is what I worry about."
And so it goes. The same people who undermined the U.S. effort in Afghanistan beginning in 2002 now hope to do the same to President Obama as he contemplates McChrystal's request. Meanwhile, for as long as he makes Obama squirm in the White House, McChrystal will enjoy the same full-throated support the Republican Party gave Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War. Even, it appears, if he leaks classified information to do it.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)