Monday, June 28, 2010

Does U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry Really Want to Be Viceroy?

Well the Rolling Stone article that got General McChrystal fired last Thursday arrived in the mail on Friday, and I had a chance to read the article over the weekend. No suprises, if anything it confrmed my conclusion that this firing was really about to General McChrystal not getting along with U.S. Ambassador Eikenberry:

By far the most crucial – and strained – relationship is between McChrystal and Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador. According to those close to the two men, Eikenberry – a retired three-star general who served in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2005 – can't stand that his former subordinate is now calling the shots. He's also furious that McChrystal, backed by NATO's allies, refused to put Eikenberry in the pivotal role of viceroy in Afghanistan, which would have made him the diplomatic equivalent of the general. The job instead went to British Ambassador Mark Sedwill – a move that effectively increased McChrystal's influence over diplomacy by shutting out a powerful rival. "In reality, that position needs to be filled by an American for it to have weight," says a U.S. official familiar with the negotiations.

The relationship was further strained in January, when a classified cable that Eikenberry wrote was leaked to The New York Times. The cable was as scathing as it was prescient. The ambassador offered a brutal critique of McChrystal's strategy, dismissed President Hamid Karzai as "not an adequate strategic partner," and cast doubt on whether the counterinsurgency plan would be "sufficient" to deal with Al Qaeda. "We will become more deeply engaged here with no way to extricate ourselves," Eikenberry warned, "short of allowing the country to descend again into lawlessness and chaos."

McChrystal and his team were blindsided by the cable. "I like Karl, I've known him for years, but they'd never said anything like that to us before," says McChrystal, who adds that he felt "betrayed" by the leak. "Here's one that covers his flank for the history books. Now if we fail, they can say, 'I told you so.' "
But what is this "viceroy" business? That position is officially called the NATO Senior Civilian Representative to Afghanistan. Here is the current occupant, Britain Mark Sedwill, speaking when he stepped into the role last January:

Here is what a New York Times article said back on May 15 about Sedwill:
Mr. Sedwill’s emergence also laid to rest a long-simmering debate over how to structure the civilian leadership of the Afghan campaign. The United States had initially wanted to install a powerful viceroy who would have functioned as a counterpart to the military commander. Previous efforts to install a powerful civilian chief had foundered because of Hamid Karzai’s objections and European fears that a viceroy would dilute the authority of the United Nations’ special representative.
Staffan de Mistura, an Italian-Swedish diplomat, represents the United Nations. Vygaudas Usackas, a Lithuanian, is the European Union’s special representative. That's a lot of Europeans running things on the dilomatic side, and one can surmise that General McChrystal may have run afoul of them as well.

This quote from Mark Sedwill in that article could not have gone down well in diplomatic circles:
I wouldn’t have taken the job if I hadn’t been confident in my relationship with McChrystal. He probably would have sought to block anyone he didn’t have confidence in.
It's the age old question of who runs the overall strategy for a war, the diplomats or the generals. And proof that the Rolling Stone aricle did not come from out of nowhere as it appeared last week.

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