The irony is that no one knows more about this kind of warfare than Gen. McChrystal. He was in charge of exactly this kind of “counterterrorism” in Iraq for nearly five years, killing thousands of bad guys in hugely successful under-the-radar operations.
When the world’s expert on this type of counterterrorism warfare recommends precisely the opposite strategy — “counterinsurgency,” meaning a heavy-footprint, population-protecting troop surge — you have the most convincing of cases against counterterrorism by the man who most knows its potential and its limits. And McChrystal was emphatic in his recommendation: To go any other way than counterinsurgency would lose the war.
Yet his commander in chief, young Hamlet, frets, demurs, agonizes. His domestic advisers, led by Rahm Emanuel, tell him if he goes for victory, he’ll become LBJ, the domestic visionary destroyed by a foreign war. His vice president holds out the chimera of painless counterterrorism success.