The Afghan War and the “Runaway General”
The Rolling Stone story on Stanley McChrystal and and his staff has highlighted Afghan War and fueled speculation that McChrystal might be fired or replaced. In my view this isn’t really the question and I think that McChrystal’s summons to the White House and his meeting with Secretary of Defense Gates actually show this. Wisely both Obama and Gates have decided that the was is bigger than just one man as is the Presidency. In characteristic Obama style the President is waiting to make a decision until he meets face to face with his commander in the most important foreign policy initiative of his presidency. Were I Obama I would sit down with McChrystal and ask him how he is going to make this right and is he still the right man for the job? After all, McChrystal has basically alienated everyone on the State Department side and many others in the civilian chain of command that he must work with in order to get some sort of acceptable resolution in Afghanistan and steps must be taken to resolve this or replace the general with someone who can work with Biden, Jones, Holbrooke, the NATO representatives and others. Only if McChrystal comes up with excellent answers should the President not accept his resignation. McChrystal is exceptionally capable and Obama has continuity at a critical time when the tide in Afghanistan just might be turning, after all it often looks darkest before the light, to consider.
I honestly don’t think Robert Gibbs would have been in the loop on what may be in store for Gen McChrystal if Obama and Gates are truly waiting to talk to the general to decide. He certainly should have declined to answer when asked whether the general’s job was safe. I doubt that his statement that “all options are on the table” and “our efforts in Afghanistan are bigger then one person” means they can do this without him, but may mean they might have to do so if this has damaged McChrystal beyond redemption with those he does have to work with. Remember, he only has to answer to Gates, Clinton and Obama, he has to work with all the others.
The public humiliation of Gen McChrystal is certainly meant to make him think long and hard about the atmosphere of disrespect he let fester and the lapse in judgment in allowing it to go public. Also, what his mistake may mean to the effort he is tasked with making succeed. It is just an added benefit that the President looks tough in the face of an impertinent general as well.
I think President Obama has probably been called enough names not to worry too much about the leadership showing him respect as commander-in-chief as long as they are unified and working to make progress in the morass that is Afghanistan. He does have to consider continuity in leadership in Afghanistan at a crucial time, but this crisis may just act to clear the air and get all parties in leadership positions to really get their eye on the goal and work together for once. If I were Obama I might give McChrystal a few weeks to mend fences and get momentum back and then I would call all the players together in Kabul or outside of Afghanistan and see what progress has been made on the team and even knock a few heads together myself.
Follow up, Monday June 28th:
Well, President Obama accepted General McChrystal’s resignation to generally positive statements from both sides of the isle. The President garnered support and even praise from his handling of this affair from almost everyone except inveterate Obama haters. Obama showed respect and sensitivity for a military man who supported him by meeting with McChrystal in person to accept his resignation. Apparently McChrystal couldn’t assure the President that he could work effectively going forward with both the civilian diplomatic team and his command after the damaging comments in the Rolling Stone article. My prediction that this may have been an opening to clear the air and get a new better start in Afghanistan proved to be correct though in a way I didn’t see as likely, the appointment of General Petraeus as theater commander. Yes, it was important that the foundations of our democracy, civilian command of the military, were respected by the military. The public comments from General McChrystal’s team were intemperate and showed particularly bad judgement in setting a command tone in a theater where politics and may be more important than military effectiveness, but our democracy would not be permanently damaged if Obama had kept McChrystal and he had led us to success in Afghanistan. I still think that the most important aspect of this whole debacle is the effectiveness and ability of the military commander to work together with the whole team, diplomatic and military, in Afghanistan. The appointment of Petraeus puts a particularly effective leader in place to adjust the tactics so they can be as effective as possible. Petraeus will also evaluate the strategy and team and hopefully renew the focus on both means and ends so with a little luck and a lot of hard work good may come out of a nasty and unfortunate situation.
I must say, after watching the Sunday news shows, that I too wish we did not have to be in Afghanistan, but unfortunately I don’t think we have much choice unless we want to put up with a permanent haven for Al Queda next to an unstable nuclear power, Pakistan. I do think it was a proper move to topple the Taliban and help rebuild a representative government in Afghanistan, but I lament the tepid support of our European allies who suffered attacks on 3/11 (Once Emme in Spain) and on the Tube in London as well as many other failed attempts at terrorism. Rebuilding Afghanistan into a stable state where human rights are respected is a job the whole world has an interest in and should be taken on in a more proportional manner. I still hope we can start to withdraw troops next year near the deadline and the Afghans military and police force can start to take over their own security, however, I don’t think the U.S. should ever “get out” of Afghanistan, rather, we should transition from military involvement in Afghanistan to mainly civilian developmental and economic assistance in Afghanistan. We cannot afford to be out of the Middle East, but rather should take the Saudi model of spreading schools across all those countries and teach our gospel of democracy, freedom of self determination and freedom of religion. This so Sunnis can quit killing Shiites and Sufis and men can quit oppressing women throughout that region.