No U.S. general has spent more time in Afghanistan than Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez.
He is the primary author of the U.S.-Afghan war plan, a 600-plus-page classified document that is a catalogue of the lessons he has taken from three years of fighting the war. He can rattle off from memory the number of Afghan bureaucrats manning a lonely outpost in Zhari district. “Four months ago, we had one district governor and a bad police chief,” he said. “Now there are 13 people and a good police chief.”
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former top commander in Afghanistan, calls him the “best combat leader I have ever known.”
But Rodriguez will not be leading the war in Afghanistan anytime soon. This summer he will be returning home to the United States to take over U.S. Army Forces Command, a four-star job in the Army’s vast stateside bureaucracy. The decision to bypass Rodriguez for the top job reflects a determination among senior Pentagon officials that the war needs a commander who can make the case for the increasingly unpopular conflict to Congress, the news media and skeptics in the White House.
In Washington, Rodriguez is seen as a savvy fighter but a so-so salesman.
You know, I can understand the need for good public relations when it comes to maintaining support for the war effort in Afghanistan. But shunting aside the best qualified commander simply because he may not excel in the public relations department is a bit much. General Rodriguez may need to be outfitted with a good public relations staff to help him in the salesmanship department, but no amount of salesmanship is going to make up for the loss of a knowledge leader in Afghanistan.
I really wish that the Pentagon would reconsider this decision, but I am worried that it may not. I have no doubt that if General Allen is selected, he will be a formidable military commander, but Rodriguez simply knows too much about Afghanistan to be sent elsewhere. He has clearly won the loyalty of the troops he commands, and the trust of the Afghans, and with his knowledge, he is in the best position possible to effectively implement the counterinsurgency strategy that Generals McChrystal and Petraeus have settled on. He shouldn’t be out of the running in Afghanistan simply because some people think that he doesn’t play the inside game well enough. Winning wars is about more than salesmanship, after all.