General Ousted in Afghanistan for Calling a Spade a Spade

Major General Peter Fuller was relieved of command last week as Deputy Commanding General for the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan.  This decision comes from Marine General John R. Allen, overall commander in Afghanistan after comments made by Fuller in a politico.com interview (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1111/67523.html) .  In
particular Fuller made disparaging remarks about Afghan President Hamid Karzai.  Fuller’s comments were in response to what he calls an “erratic” statement made by Karzai last week, stating that Afghanistan would ally with neighbor Pakistan should a conflict arise between the US and Pakistan.

“These unfortunate comments are neither indicative of our current solid relationship with the government of Afghanistan, its leadership, or our joint commitment to prevail here in Afghanistan,” said Marine Gen. John R. Allen.

Fuller’s comments and reaction seemed to be in line with the majority of soldiers in Afghanistan and Americans stateside.  Fuller had been candid and upfront when asked questions regarding the situation in Afghanistan. Fuller referenced Afghanistan’s request for F-16 fighter jets, when they neither have the budget to use or maintain them.
Would the Defense Department reaction have been different if Fuller’s comments were made in front of the House or Senate Armed Services Committees?  Will this affect future media encounters by military leadership?  How are we to get accurate information about the situation in Afghanistan when military leaders gets fired for speaking what they believe is an honest assessment?

I think that both sides Fuller and Karzai had strong comments.  Karzai said his quote was taken out of context.  Fuller stood by his comments.  This reminds me of when Admiral Mike Mullen spoke out about Pakistan just before his retirement.  It seems when military
leadership makes statements critical of allies or, they should be expecting their job to be on the line.  If military leadership isn’t allowed to be critical and open about the current situation to the media,  we will all be led to believe that the Afghanistan campaign is
going according to plan, under budget and that the troop withdrawal is on schedule. Afghan forces will fill the security vacuum, the government is ready and the Afghan people will be forever grateful.

~WildcatMP

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About Afghanopoly

I am an Assistant Professor of peace and conflict studies at Radboud University's Centre for International Conflict Analysis and Management (CICAM). I completed my PhD in Political Science at Northwestern University and Sciences Po under the supervision of Will Reno and Bertrand Badie. Among other things, I teach students about the politics of international intervention in Afghanistan and elsewhere. My research focuses on the political strategies that Afghan strongmen use to consolidate and legitimize their authority. I am particularly interested in how these actors manage to conduct their own forms of international relations. My field research brings me in contact with Afghan community leaders, politicians, diplomats and foreign military officers.
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15 Responses to General Ousted in Afghanistan for Calling a Spade a Spade

  1. Sam West says:

    You know, you really don’t get it do you? It’s not that Maj. Gen. Fuller’s comments were false, it’s that he violated the rules and made the jobs of everyone else that much more difficult. The whole statement:

    “If military leadership isn’t allowed to be critical and open about the current situation to the media, we will all be led to believe that the Afghanistan campaign is going according to plan, under budget and that the troop withdrawal is on schedule.”

    Is proof that you don’t understand what it takes to win a war. It usurps the chain of command for military leadership to speak frankly to the media.

    If you don’t like the war then take it up with the people who decide to fight that war. Do not attack our military leadership for doing their jobs correctly (aka General Allen).

    Maj Gen Fuller stabbed every person serving in Afghanistan in the back with his “open and frank” comments, and of course you claim to be interested in the “political strategies that Afghan strongmen use to consolidate and legitimize their authority” but your American ethnocentricity assumes that only the western way of doing things is valid. Do you have any concept of the Afghani and Muslim culture and that many time what we call corruption is their normal way of doing business?

    I dare you to do Karzai’s job for a month and remain alive.

    • afghanclass says:

      Hello Sam,

      I think you were a bit harsh on Wildcat MP. I would go even further to claim that you can’t claim to really know why general Fuller made those comments. For example, as a enlisted soldier, we are taught not to really speak to the media. The leadership wants to be able to control the message and the propaganda used in conflict and resolution.Perhaps as a militarized strategy, the general was told to make those comments. I think that we as a society tend to look at situations and make fundamental attribution errors. We do know that the general didn’t get to be a general becaused he lacked the intelligence to do so. We also can assumed that he knows quite a bit more than you do about military policy and procedures in speaking to the media and the general public.I am willing to go out on a limb and say that the general, used as a pawn, could be exercising the opinion and beliefs of the US as a whole. Whatever the case, I would argue that Wildcat MP has the fundamental right to say what he or she wants to, and that’s whats so good about living in an American society.

  2. Afghanopoly says:

    Sam West,

    I understand that you might disagree with the previous post. You should however be aware of a number of facts.

    1/ I do not write the “Boots on the Ground” section. Wildcat MP is one of my students who is currently deployed in Afghanistan. He is entitled to his own opinions, and so are you. No need to attack him (and me) like that.

    2/ I am not even American, so I am not so sure about my assumed “American ethnocentricity.”

    3/ I do work on “political strategies that Afghan strongmen use to consolidate and legitimize their authority.” That is correct. As a matter of fact, I actually argue against the prevailing doxa vis-à-vis strongmen and warlords and attempt to show that they in fact perform essential social functions that are needed in Afghan society. I thus believe that your rhetoric question on my assumed ignorance of the Afghan culture is way out of line.

    Having said that, I approved your comment hoping that it could lead to a constructive discussion between you, Wildcat MP and whoever else wants to join the debate.

  3. First off, I support free speech, critical analysis, and public debate in all forms. I realize that if one is “on the job” as Fuller was, there is a limit to what they can say without violating either security or diplomatic protocol. Maybe not a good thing that we can be silenced like that, but that’s not something Fuller didn’t understand.

    I personally found his comments to be racially tinged and insulting to Afghanis, not to mention horrifically arrogant in his comments about Afghan poverty. To be honest, I am not a fan of the military leadership of the US, but enough said on that point.

    If I was a military commander holding back a long rant on the war situation, I would have arranged a private anonymous interview and let it all hang out through such channels. I wonder if that might still have inccured such repercussions, since the military would no doubt has been able to dig up the identity of the interviewee.

    • Rena says:

      I agree with you on the anonymous interview. Doesn’t the military do that often? The Major should perhaps have exercised a little more discretion, but I can only imagine his frustration. Karzai is the Tantalus of Afghanistan – a peaceful partnership is always just out of reach. The annoyance of those of us at home -in the U.S. and elsewhere- is nothing compared to that of those who are fighting and managing the fight, which is why I don’t believe the Major should have been fired. But I guess I’m still struggling with the realization that in order to “succeed” in Afghanistan, it is necessary to operate in ways that are contrary to our American ideals.

    • ethannu says:

      Although I’d agree that public debate is one of the things that makes our country so great Radicalprogress, I don’t think it was Maj. Gen. Fuller’s place to speak up, even if it was anonymousyly.

      If he is offering a different view of what is going on in the military compared to senior military leadership then that makes the military look weaker, it makes the military look confused, that the ranks are spliting apart, and soon the whole system will fall apart.

      Yea, saying the whole system will fall apart is a stretch, but the idea is that it is very important tht there is only one point of contact, or else everyone will be confused. I don’t know too much about military workings but from what I do understand, it must be quite difficult to relay your opinion upwards in some cases including this one or else Maj. Gen. Fuller would not have behaved that way. But I still think his actions have costed the military a bit of face.

  4. I’m not sure I completely disagree with the decision to remove the general from command. I think it’s not so much because of what he said, but the state of mind that he seemed to be in when he said it. I wonder about the article’s mention of the general being very obviously agitated and some of the other key comments he himself made that were probably key in unravelling some of the problems between US and Afghanistan relations (with the senior officials)…and no I’m not sure their reactions would be that different had the general made those comments in front of a house armed services committee. I think it’s important to get the facts about a situation, but I think it’s also important to know those facts represent the entire story and not just biased parts – especially if I’ve decided to make a public comment out of it. With that being said, here are some thoughts regarding the article…

    So first off, if a journalist can visibily see that you’re agitated – it’s not the time to do a press conference or give any sort of “serious” interview. If emotions have taken over your personal being so much that you can’t even hide that irritation and annoyance – you shouldn’t be in front of the camera/microphone. Maybe it’s basic western mentality or just having seen many political speeches, but unless you’re attempting to rouse a the public or a group of people – emotions should be present, but out of the equation during press conferences.

    Second, I think the state of American financial affairs should be left out of this. If we are thinking of pulling out or whatever DUE to financial issues, then I think it’s a valid topic. If you don’t have the money, ok that’s fair enough to just say we don’t have the funds right now. There are a thousand other alternatives to declining a request without drawing out the U.S. efforts and what we’re spending on them and how they seem ungrateful. While it’s important that they are aware that the U.S. does not have unlimited funds, I’m sure many people will agree that there is a time and a place to make people aware of that .. and that time/place probably should not have been during that particular encounter and then make that mistake even worse by flashing it out for the world to see during an interview.

    And lastly – was I the only one that caught the comment where the Senior Afghan Leadership was making comments stating that the Soviet gave them tanks and they were used to being able to access things like that? I would probably have been more concerned at that point, that they believed that this was a U.S. occupation instead of an ally coming in to help them straighten their house. To use an analogy that comes into mind in regards to occupation and control… there are different expectations you have of your controlling parent vs. your friends/allies… You do not expect your friends to support you when you’re young… you do, however, expect your parents to support you… And then there is the question – if we secretly believe that the Afghans are being greedy (assuming fuller’s comments speak the truth), then is it possible the Afghans secretly believe that Americans are there to occupy?

  5. I can’t find a place to edit on this but I did want to clarify a point near the end – I meant occupy with the intent of staying (vs. what I am sure some people are throw out that we’ve already occuppied afghanistan 🙂 )

  6. Rena says:

    I think Gen. Allen grossly overstated our “solid relationship” with the government Afghanistan; and while I understand the need for the military to edit their public comments, I don’t think Major Gen. Fuller should have been fired. The fact that our “solid relationship” has repeatedly been publicly undermined by our so-called ally (and specifically, President, Karzai) is evidence of its shaky foundation. The Maj. Gen. should perhaps have been reprimanded for breaking military protocol, but relieving him was harsh in light of the obvious truth of his statements.

  7. poliscimajor says:

    It seems as though this is the typical response of those in leadership when someone states true facts regarding very sensitive topics. We all know that there are ‘talking points’ for senior leadership in the military and the government as a whole. Any deviation from the standard line is likely to be met with some form of punishment. In this case, we have a senior military leader who reacted to a statement made by the Afghan President. In support of his troops and the situation that he sees on the ground, the Deputy Commanding Officer stated his true opinion. As a result of his honesty, he was relieved of his duties. No one wants to hear the truth about the situation in Afghanistan. Not even the those at the highest levels of the military command in Afghanistan.

  8. patriotpaul says:

    I’m not sure what the question here is. Is this a question over the firing of the Major General or is this a debate over the truth behind the curtains?

    Fundamentally, it is important to remember that the US military is not guided by the same rules that apply to the common citizenship of America. Rather, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is what regulates the conduct of all military members. So when it comes to the firing, and the question of speaking ones mind, it is a matter of military protocol and not freedom of speech. Military members do not have the inherent right to say what they want. And under the provisions of UCMJ, all military members are subject to either judicial or non-judicial punishment when found to be in violation of such provisions. Evidently, the senior military commander in Afghanistan has determined that the comments made were in violation and therefore exercised his obligation to hold the Major General accountable for his comments. But I don’t believe that this is the question that we should be debating.

    Rather, the question we should be debating is do we have an understanding of the reality on the ground in Afghanistan? And how can we better come to understand the facts so that we can become a better informed citizenry, capable of making intelligent assessments of the situation in order to strengthen our national defense? Must we be dependent on a few senior ranking officials to provide us sound bites that enable us to become minimally informed, or is there a more scientific way for us to go about gaining the kind of situational understanding that will ultimately lead to a collective ability to make sound policy decisions? Many have argued that the past ten years have been filled with folly and poor decisions, the kind that have led us to where we are today. I would tend to agree that in hindsight many decisions have been not the best. However, that was in the past and today we are presented with a future of possibility. Having a sound understanding of the complexities that abound in Afghanistan is and should be at the forefront of our undertaking.

    Our Nation seems to have determined that leaving Afghanistan in 2014 is the right course of action. My question is this: Is that the course of action for the long term security of both the region and the United States? Taking into consideration all that we have come to know about the facts on the ground and the possibilities that may ensue in a post-American Afghanistan, how should the International Community be approaching the the next 10-20 years in Central Asia? And if we are not interested in the long view, why are we still there today?

  9. bjorikified says:

    I feel it’s also important to remember the speaker and his/her audience… When we discussed Karzai’s comments on allying with Pakistan in class, we had a thorough discourse on the fact that Karzai was, in fact, most likely speaking to his fellow Afghan people. Not NATO, the US, our troops, or even necessarily to stroke Pakistan. While I may not agree wholly with his words, I do understand that he must politically dance on the head of a pin. Not to sidetrack, but I feel a related speech ‘issue’ occurred during the Rwandan genocide (that word wasn’t even used until after the fact) when President Clinton made clear the U.S. and UN roles in that country. He was trying to appease American sentiment with the realities that the UN faced in Africa. It’s not completely dissimilar to what Karzai must be dealing with among his people. I think we’ll see his words take on many different meanings in upcoming weeks and months.

  10. clericalerror says:

    Major General Fuller’s frustration is palpable; while I personally agree with a few of his sentiments, I don’t feel that airing any of them publicly serves to do anything but harm U.S. militaristic interests. Fuller’s actions only serve to create more difficulty between the United States and the Karzai government, already clearly distancing themselves from a relationship with us in favor of one with Pakistan. Such comments also compromise efforts being implemented locally on the part of the U.S. military, serving to lower morale while setting a terrible precedent. Frankly, it only serves to make us look worse in the eyes of the international community. People should have the right to say what they feel, but not at the expense of institutions seeking to provide security and establish stable relationships within a tense state.

  11. Matt says:

    In my experience, senior military officers are well aware that:

    1. Their words carry weight with both the media and the public.

    2. Their duty as officers often precludes their ability to voice their opinion when it contradicts DOD policy, standing orders, civil and diplomatic protocol, or when it embarrasses senior officers or political representatives (including non-elected).

    Given the above, general officers often treat opinions that contradict current policy as something to save up and spend only when they deem it necessary, unless they’re drunk (see McCrystal, etc). My point is that Fuller likely knew that in voicing his opinion he would be relieved, and decided that the cost was worth it.

    My thought? If we find ourself embroiled in a conflict in which men are losing their lives and a senior officer is relieved for speaking an uncomfortable truth, the conflict itself demands further analysis. That said, when soldiers step out of line, officers and enlisted, they know the punishment.

  12. hennarot says:

    Major General Fuller rose to a very high level in the American military. Without a doubt he understands the way the game is played. Whether or not his comments are accurate is one thing. But his comments were in conflict with his superiors and therefore reprimanded.

    With regards to his comments, they represent to me a high level of frustration with the situation in Afghanistan and brings into question why Karzai was asking for this hardware. Apparently General Fuller felt strong enough about his position to make it public and bear the consequences.

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