Monday, March 1, 2010

Operation Moshtarak was for show

Interesting comments from Gen. McChrystal today in the wake of the Moshtarak operation in the city of Marja.  The "property," he notes, is "not particularly valuable. The operation is about changing everyone's mind-set. . . .  We're trying to convince everybody, okay, we've now figured this out. To convince them, "now we're winning, and we're going to win."

I can't say that McChrystal's comments are very well-calculated to win hearts and minds on the home front, especially among the families of the US soldiers who lost their lives in the effort.

And I can't help being struck by the parallel between his comments and those of the British commanders and political officers during the Mesopotamian campaign of World War I (which I'm writing about right now as I come very near to completing the manuscript of my book).  In their various reports, they harp constantly on the need to ensure British "prestige" by keeping on the offensive (even when they were being threatened by Tigris flooding or had outrun their supply lines).  The view was that the locals  would lose respect for them if they sat back too long to regroup.

McChrystal's Moshtarak is similarly a show of force - in its way, good public diplomacy, actually - and the locals will surely have developed respect (and I'm sure fear was part of the message intended as well) for the US forces' ability.  But the truly heavy lifting is in the future - in building some kind of trust between the locals and their own national government (and I truly hold out very little real hope for that), and in the upcoming operation in Kandahar.

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