During yesterday's hearings before the House and Senate Armed Service Committees, General Stanley McChrystal and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry presented a unified front, defending the escalation strategy outlined by the Obama administration. They projected confidence that the 18 months ahead will yield the sort of significant results to make the Afghan people "the winning team," as McCrystal put it. "I absolutely believe that we -- and I mean the government of Afghanistan with coalition help -- can defeat the Taliban," McChrystal said.
Your best source for a one-stop shop (or, two-stop shop, as it were), comes via the Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman, who drew out tons of detail from both the House hearing and the Senate hearing. Needing to catch up on the Senate hearings last night, I found these link-rich highlight reels to be top-flight resources.
Here are some key highlights:
McChrystal Hearts Obama: Well, seeing as he got precisely what he wanted, it stands to reason that McChrystal would praise the president's "clarity, commitment and resolve." But as I noted yesterday, that didn't stop various Republican Congresspersons from trying to bait McChrystal into a division. Representative Buck McKeon was at it early, concern-trolling on troop levels, but McChrystal maintained that the mission has been properly resourced, saying, "I believe that the president's decision reflects resourcing, resources that do, that are congruent with what I recommended we needed. So I'm very comfortable with the outcome resource-wise of what was made in the process."
Over at TAPPED, Adam Serwer notes, "The belief that McChrystal could be leveraged against Obama has its origins in his widely-misinterpreted appearance in London a few months ago." So, what about that?
McChrystal Is Sorry About London: Pressed on this matter by Senator Jim Webb (D-Va.), McChrystal explained, "The discussion in London ... there was no intention on my part to influence or in any way negatively impact the decision-making process. I regret if there's any impression that it did but there was absolutely no intent on my part to do that."
Got To Pay The Cost To Be The Boss: One interesting revelation that Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) teased out of the hearings was the news that coalition forces are not currently paying Afghan soldiers a competitive wage, compared to the compensation being offered by the Taliban. Ackerman called this "a glaring, flashing red light of a problem". Matt Yglesias noted that this should raise a bunch of broader questions:
At the same time, this highlights a lot of lingering issues about the cost-effectiveness of our approach. Why are we spending a multiple of Afghanistan's total GDP on fighting a war in the country? Couldn't more be done, for cheaper, with cash for bribes and development? How is it that it doesn't take the Taliban years to train competent soldiers?
John McCain Has An Issue: Senator McCain (R-Ariz) has been a-grouse all week over the planned July 2011 "inflection point," insisting that "the fundamental problem remains: we've announced a date divorced from conditions on the ground when we will start to withdraw our troops." Of course, McChrystal, along with the rest of the administration, doesn't see it that way, especially the whole "divorced from conditions" part. Prior to tangling with McCain, the general averred that "the guarantee that we the coalition, will support them but not stay too long is actually a positive as well."
No Mention Of "Dwell Time": Unless I missed it in the transcript, none of yesterday's interlocutors made any significant inquiries on the issue of "dwell time." The matter may be taken up today, but if it isn't, I'd expect this issue to diminish in media coverage of the escalation.
Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding hearings with Eikenberry and General David Petraeus.