The Surge and General: Sarah Palin had the wrong name, right idea

The general that she referred to in this evening’s debate should have been McKiernan, not “McClellan”.

Nevertheless, Joe Biden characterized the general as saying:

The fact is that our commanding general in Afghanistan said today that a surge — the surge principles used in Iraq will not — well, let me say this again now — our commanding general in Afghanistan said the surge principle in Iraq will not work in Afghanistan, not Joe Biden, our commanding general in Afghanistan.

It is certainly true that various newspapers such as the Washington Post have characterized General McKiernan’s comments this way.

But the General was talking about the end of the process, not the beginning. He is stating that he needs more troops — i.e. the same thing as was called the “surge” in Iraq — but he thinks they won’t be able to get out as quickly. He describes this as being more of a sustained effort. Here he is from October 1st:

GEN. MCKIERNAN: What I had done was validate a requirement for three additional brigade — ground brigade combat teams that my predecessor had made. That is three ground brigade combat teams, and then there’s a series of enablers that go with them, things like helicopters, increased intelligence assets, logistics, transportation and so on.

Since I got there four months ago, we found we were in a heavier fight, a larger fight in the east than we had anticipated, so we asked for some immediate forces for Regional Command East where the 101st Air Assault Division is. And that’s the brigade that was just approved for deployment to Afghanistan in the January time frame, the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division.

So if you want total those up, you could say it’s four brigade combat teams with enablers.

Q And does that include the request for 3,500 trainers or is the trainer request on top of that?

GEN. MCKIERNAN: The trainer request is being reviewed right now, because what we’re looking to in the future there is having units come to Afghanistan that are trained to conduct counterinsurgency operations, but are — also have been trained to work with the Afghan army and the Afghan police. So that might change the requirement for what are called the training teams or the police mentoring teams in the future.

Interestingly, Senator Biden, after saying that “a surge won’t work” went on to list what WOULD work — and listed the ingredients of the surge:

BIDEN: He said we need more troops. We need government-building. We need to spend more money on the infrastructure in Afghanistan.

This is the surge.

The newspapers are interpreting their own opinions in saying that “the surge won’t work” — but they do not quote General McKiernan saying this. Where the difference lies is the duration. General McKiernan does not want the expectation that the additional troops can win quickly as is happening in Iraq. He doesn’t like the word “surge” for that reason.

It’s important to look at the general’s transcript itself, not just reporters’ (or Senator Biden’s) worldview interpetations of what he said. He has three points of difference between Iraq and Afghanistan:
— The Afghanistan military effort might be four or five years, Iraq much less. So, to the extent that the term “surge” implies “short-term”, he doesn’t like using the word. I agree.
— The Afghans tribal system is more complex than that of Iraq, and requires a more delicate handling. Still, he expects that the “Awakening” style movements resulting from the surge in Iraq will work.
— The Afghans have been traumatized by three decades of war already, which means more infrastructure work is needed.

What would the Sarah Palin’s surge consist of? More troops and equipment. What did General McKiernan say he needed? More troops and equipment. And even Joe Biden agreed with this.

So why Joe Biden (or the Washington Post, for that matter) is claiming “the surge won’t work” is odd. It would be fairer to say “the surge won’t be as quick” or, as General McKiernan put it, we need a “sustained effort”.

I’d agree, certainly. But of the two candidates tonight, Senator Biden’s comments on General McKiernan are misleading — and Governor Palin’s just misnaming. While the latter is unfortunate, the former is disingenuous.

===|==============/ Level Head