General McChrystal, addressing the IISS in London today, regales us with his wisdom and understanding of the situation in Afghanistan.
"With a completely altruistic effort of building a well," he says, "you can create divisiveness, you can give the impression that you, from the outside, don't know what is going on, you can give the impression that you have sided with one element or another ... and all you tried to do is give water."
McChrystal is confronting one of the fundamental truths of life - don't interfere in things you don't understand. And the point is, we will never understand. We have neither the time, the resources, the capabilities nor the structures which will allow us to understand. So don't interfere.
We cannot rebuild the Afghan society. We can act as enablers, rebuilding the physical infrastructure which then permits the Afghans to repair their own society. But we are not doing this. We are interfering in the minutia of Afghan society and we are not addressing the physical infrastructure.
Yet, still, McChrystal talks about "winning the battle of perception". If he doesn't understand how the society works, how can he begin to know how Afghan society perceives the coalition effort? And, if he doesn't understand the complexity of that society, how can he effectively target the actions of his forces to alter that perception?
However, he acknowledges that "security comes from the people". We must redefine the fight, he says. We must protect the people, he says. We came and said we would protect them, and we didn't. And now we must.
But we must protect them from our own actions. The understanding must be that we respect the people. We must as a force change our mindset. We have a conventional warfare mindset - we're going to have to do things dramatically different. Yea ... right.