McChrystal offers to resign
The Rolling Stone article, The Runaway General, on Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is certainly THE news story of the day. The content of the article was shown to McChrystal before it was released to the public.
Hardly surprising, McChrystal Called to Washington to Explain Remarks
The article, in the magazine’s latest edition, quotes the general and his aides as criticizing Vice President Joseph Biden, special envoy for Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke, and U.S. Ambassador to Kabul Karl Eikenberry.
As the top U.S. civilian and military officials in Afghanistan, Eikenberry and McChrystal are required to jointly implement U.S. policy in the country.
The Rolling Stone profile, titled “The Runaway General,” mentions the first meeting that McChrystal had with President Barack Obama the week after he took office. They met with a dozen senior military officials in a Pentagon room known as The Tank. The reporter of the article cites a source familiar with the meeting saying that McChrystal thought Obama appeared “uncomfortable and intimidated” by the room filled with military brass.
The article also describes the first one-on-one meeting McChrystal had with Obama in the Oval Office four months later, which an adviser to McChrystal called “a 10-minute photo op.”
McChrystal is described by an aide as “disappointed” in this first meeting with the president. While McChrystal voted for Obama, the two didn’t connect from the start, the article says.
The thing is, McChrystal is in charge of 142,000 troops in Afghanistan from the U.S. and 45 partner nations, which he understands to be his personal responsibility. Personal responsibility: a concept probably beyond the reach of a president who could spare all of 20 minutes – if that – for this:
Right now (emphasis added),
McChrystal is executing a strategy which took the White House months to approve. The approach involves adding 30,000 U.S. troops to carry out a counter-insurgency, which includes convincing Afghans to resist the Taliban’s takeover of parts of the country. The general said recently that this would take more time than expected.
The Obama administration dithered on a strategy and insists on a July 2011 withdrawal date – which tells the Afghans their lives are not worth helping the US since the US is scheduled to leave anyway, and then what?
So what it may come down to is, Obama Should Probably Fire McChrystal, but He Can’t
McChrystal is a big boy, and after a tenure that saw the leak of his bleak strategic review and the fallout from his London speech calling for an Afghan troop surge, I have a lot of trouble buying that McChrystal would make another goof of this magnitude.
Which makes me wonder whether we are witnessing McChrystal falling on his sword to get the word out on the Obama administration’s folly in Afghanistan. I’m not 100 percent convinced of it, but it is a real possibility.
I also very much agree with Rich that the president would be well within his rights to dismiss McChrystal over this. I just don’t think he can. The fact is that McChrystal has more credibility onAfghanistan than Obama does. And to the extent that Obama has credibility there at all (and higher approval ratings for his Afghanistan policy than his presidency generally), it is credibility imported from McChrystal. As such, I figure that firing the general would be disastrous forObama , not just on substance but politically. Fairly or unfairly, it would make his administration look petty and prideful, willing to let an (admittedly serious) breach in decorum set back our best chance for success in the longest war in American history.
The real trouble is that Obama never resolved the dispute within his administration over Afghanistan strategy. With the backing of Gates and the Pentagon’s top generals, McChrystal sought to apply to Afghanistan the counterinsurgency approach that succeeded over the last three years in Iraq, an option requiring the deployment of tens of thousands more troops. Biden opposed sending most of the reinforcements and argued for a “counterterrorism plus” strategy centered on preventing al-Qaeda from establishing another refuge.
In the end, Obama adopted what is beginning to look like a bad compromise. He approved most of the additional troops that McChrystal sought, but attached the July, 2011 deadline for beginning withdrawals. Since then both sides have been arguing their cases, in private and in public, to the press and to members of Congress.
McChrystal may be at fault for expressing his frustrations to Rolling Stone. He is not at fault for the lack of coherence in the Afghan campaign or the continued feuding over strategy. That is Obama’s responsibility.
We’ll see what happens next.
(Post re-edited to include omitted link & text)