Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fuggedabout McChrystal, Fire The War

There is no doubt that General Stanley McChrystal, the suddenly former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, is a repeat offender when it comes to insubordination.
Even for those defending his comments in the Rolling Stone interview that resulted him in being called on the White House carpet, there is no doubt that there was little love loss between he and Vice President Biden and the Obama national security team. Recall also the conveniently leaked memo to journalist Bob Woodward at a time when the president was mulling whether to send more troops to Afghanistan. As it turned out, McChrystal wanted 'em and he got 'em.
But for those hung up on McClellan-Lincoln and MacArthur-Truman analogies, this is a different era and a different war. In fact, to the chagrin of McChrystal's troops, it is a war in in which the commander necessarily has to rein in air and artillery strikes.
Yes, McChrystal deserved a good tongue lashing, which President Obama apparently delivered yesterday, but probably not reassignment. Yet I suppose, as other pundits have rushed to note, that since the president gave BP a good dressing down for its Gulf oil spill, then he had no choice but to relieve McChrystal for his own spills.
And while it is too soon to judge the consequences of McChrystal's stewardship of what is now by far the U.S.'s longest war, he appeared to be making the best of what remains a fool's mission by employing the kind of counterinsurgency strategy cum nation building that should have been in place from Day One. Recall also that on Day Two, President Bush shifted the focus to Iraq, the biggest fool's mission of them all.
It is easy to look back at the pivotal moment in Obama's presidency when he could have made the politically volatile decision to withdraw most troops and concentrate on surgical strikes against Al Qaeda and Taliban bigs, which happens to be what Biden advocated.
He didn't make that decision, but at the end of the day it doesn't matter. General David Petraeus is as good as they get, and he saved Bush's sorry ass in Iraq. But there will be no ass saving in Afghanistan.

It still is too big, too ungovernable and too corrupt for an outcome that even remotely resembles a victory.

Obama can't ask someone to pass him the salt without being criticized, but there was pretty much unanimity yesterday across the political spectrum for how he handled the McChrystal-Petraeus transition. The president has been much too passive much too often. Strong presidential leadership was demanded here and we got it.
Photograph by Doug Mills/The New York Times

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