- The Washington Times - Friday, October 2, 2009

In a PBS interview on Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton dismissed Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s detailed assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. “I respect that because clearly he is the commander on the ground,” she said, “but I can only tell you there are other assessments from very expert military analysts who have worked in counterinsurgencies that are the exact opposite.” She said the administration’s goal “is to take all of this incoming data and sort it out.”

We aren’t sure what the secretary of state means by “the exact opposite” of Gen. McChrystal’s assessment. He concluded that a change was needed in U.S. strategy, further resources were required, the Afghan forces need to be made more effective and that success is achievable. Should we believe the exact opposite - that a change in strategy is not needed, resources are adequate, the Afghan forces are fine as they are, and we are headed for certain failure?

Mrs. Clinton is correct that there is no lack of views on the subject. Counterinsurgency “experts” proliferated in Washington after the invasion of Iraq in the same way that the city was suddenly awash in counterterrorism “experts” after the Sept. 11 attacks. The White House is free to pick and choose from among them in the same way a patient can shop for doctors until he gets the diagnosis he likes. Unfortunately, this path is frequently fatal for the patient.

Mrs. Clinton’s assertion that the McChrystal report is just one more data point is astonishing. Gen. McChrystal had access to the most complete and most current information, is closest to the fight, consulted with scores of specialists and drew on his 33 years of military experience, which is largely in the area of unconventional warfare. His assessment may not be the final word on Afghanistan, but it cannot be dismissed as just another random input in the policy mix.

Mrs. Clinton has a dubious record as a judge of counterinsurgencies. In September 2007, then-Sen. Clinton told Gen. David H. Petraeus that the reports he provided on the progress of the surge strategy in Iraq “really require the willing suspension of disbelief.” She was running for president at the time and fleeing the 2002 Iraq war authorization vote that had alienated her from the left wing of the Democratic Party. But reality trumped her politically motivated skepticism. Her comments on the McChrystal report should be taken in that light.

Mrs. Clinton is faithfully following the White House line, which is based more on political expediency than military reality. But the country cannot afford to make Afghan policy on cherry-picked analyses supporting politicized conclusions. Implementing the recommendations in the McChrystal report requires strong leadership. Unfortunately, the administration is providing the exact opposite.