The Cable

Galbraith: Obama failed to reassert civilian control in Afghanistan

President Obama's decision to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan with Gen. David Petraeus will do little to reassert civilian control over the U.S. mission there, according to the former No. 2 U.N. official in Afghanistan.

Announcing the move today in front of the White House, Obama said that U.S. democracy "depends upon institutions that are stronger than individuals. That includes strict adherence to the military chain of command, and respect for civilian control over that chain of command."

But Amb. Peter Galbraith, who was fired from his role as deputy of the U.N. mission in Kabul last year after privately raising concerns about the widespread fraud perpetrated by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the presidential election, told The Cable in an exclusive interview that Obama's decision to change commanders in Afghanistan ignores the need to have the diplomats, not the generals, in the lead. 

"The president needs to make clear that it is the ambassador that speaks for the U.S. and the commanding general is not the one who is making U.S. policy," Galbraith said.

Galbraith argues that in the aftermath of the dispute between Special Representative Richard Holbrooke and Karzai following last year's presidential election and the revelation that Amb. Karl Eikenberry did not see Karzai as a credible partner, Obama allowed McChrystal to become the primary connection to the Afghan leader. Meanwhile, the top two civilian officials were marginalized.

"Unfortunately, as part of his love offensive, Obama made a mistake in letting Karzai choose his interlocutor," Galbraith said.

Holbrooke was delivering a "tough love" message before he was pushed to the side. Now Karzai, who "heads a mafia state," according to Galbraith, has no incentive to make the reforms that would allow his government to achieve the credibility it needs.

"Eikenberry was right," Galbraith said, referring to the ambassador's leaked memos, which were published by the New York Times in January "He said the strategy wouldn't work because we don't have a credible partner and the strategy is not working."

As for McChrystal, Galbraith gave him credit for changing the tactics of the military operations in Afghanistan, but gave him low marks for the diplomatic role he was playing with Karzai and his government.

"He understood that you can't win the war by just killing lots of Taliban, but there's no evidence that he understood the key flaw with his strategy, which is that you need a credible partner, which we don't have," he said.

The president was totally justified in sacking McChrystal, Galbraith said. But if there's no credible partner in Afghanistan, there's only one policy option left to him.

"Withdraw most of the troops," he said. "There's no point having thousands of troops there pursuing an objective that can't be achieved."

The Cable

Text: Obama relieves McChrystal, nominates Petraeus

President Obama announced that he has accepted the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal, who until the release of this Rolling Stone profile was the commander of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan.

Here is the full text of his remarks:

Today I accepted General Stanley McChrystal's resignation as commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. I do so with considerable regret, but also with certainty it is the right thing for our mission in Afghanistan, for our military, and for our country. I'm also pleased to nominate General David Petraeus to take command in Afghanistan, which will allow us to maintain the momentum and leadership we need to succeed."

I don't make this decision based on any difference in policy with General McChrystal, as we are in full agreement on our strategy. Nor do I make this decision out of any sense of personal insult. Stan McChrystal has always shown great courtesy and carried out my orders faithfully. I've got great admiration for him and for his long record of service in uniform. Over the last nine years, with America fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has earned a reputation as one of America's finest soldiers. That reputation is founded upon his extraordinary education, his deep intelligence, and his love of country.

I've relied on his service, particularly in helping to design and lead our strategy in Afghanistan. So, all Americans should be grateful for General McChrystal's remarkable career in uniform. But war is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general, or a president. As difficult as it is to relieve General McChrystal, I believe it is the right decision for our national security. The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system. And it erodes the trust that is necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.

My multiple responsibilities as commander in chief led me to this decision. First, I have a responsibility to the extraordinary men and women who are fighting this war and to the democratic institutions that I have been elected to lead. I've got no greater honor than serving as commander in chief of our men and women in uniform and it is my duty to see that no diversion complicates the vital mission that they are carrying out. That includes adherence to a strict code of conduct. The strength and greatness of our military is rooted in the fact that this code applies equally to newly enlisted privates and to the general officer who commands them. That allows us to come together as one. That's part of the reason that America has the finest fighting force in the history of the world.

It is also true that our democracy depends on institutions that are stronger than individuals. That includes strict adherence to the military chain of command and strict civilian control over that chain of command. That's why as commander in chief I believe this decision is necessary to hold ourselves accountable to standards that are at the core of our democracy.

Second, I have a responsibility to do whatever is necessary to succeed in Afghanistan and in our broader effort to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda. I believe that this mission demands unity of effort, across our alliance and across our national security team. And I don't think we can sustain that unity of effort and achieve our objectives in Afghanistan without making this change. That, too, has guided my decision.  I just told my national security team that now is the time for all of us to come together. Doing so is not an option but an obligation. I welcome debate among my team but I won't tolerate division. All of have personal interests, all of us have opinions, our politics often fuels conflict, but we have to renew our sense of common purpose and meet our responsibilities to one another and to our troops who are in harm's way, and to our country.

We need to remember what this is all about. Our nation is at war. We face a very tough fight in Afghanistan. But Americans don't flinch in the face of difficult truths or difficult tasks. We persist and we persevere.  We will not tolerate a safe haven for terrorists who want to destroy Afghan society from within and launch attacks against innocent men, women, and children in our country and around the world. So make no mistake, we have a clear goal. We are going to break the Taliban's momentum. We are going to build Afghan capacity. We are going to relentlessly apply pressure on al Qaeda and its leadership, strengthening the ability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to do the same. That's the strategy we agreed to last fall. That's the policy we are carrying out in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In that effort, we are honored to be joined by allies and partners that have stood by us and paid the ultimate price of the loss of their young people at war. They are with us because of the interests and values we share and because this mission is fundamental to the ability of free people to live in peace and security in the 21st century.

General Petraeus and I were able to spend some time this morning discussing the way forward. I'm extraordinarily grateful that he has agreed to serve in this new capacity. It should be clear to everybody that he does so at great personal sacrifice to himself and to his family. And he is setting an extraordinary example of service and patriotism by assuming this difficult post. I say to the American people, this is a change in personnel but not a change in policy. General Petraeus fully participated in our review last fall and he both supported and helped design the strategy that we have in place. In his current post at Central Command, he has worked closely with our forces in Afghanistan, he has worked closely with Congress, and he has worked closely with both the Afghan and Pakistan governments, and with all our partners in the region.  He has my full confidence and I am urging the Senate to confirm him as quickly as possible.

Let me conclude by saying that it was a difficult decision to come to the conclusion that I've made today. Indeed it saddens me to lose the service of a soldier who I've come to respect and admire. But the reasons that led me to this decision are the same principles that have supported the strength of our military and our nation since the founding. So once again, I think General McChrystal for his contributions to the security of this nation and the success of this mission in Afghanistan. I look forward to working with General Petraeus and my entire national security team to succeed in our mission. And I reaffirm that America stands as one in our support for our men and women who defend it.