Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Does McChrystal deserve a break today?

General McChrystal is due to meet President Obama face to face in the White House over his remarks made in that now infamous Rolling Stone article and there is a general consensus that McChrystal's remarks betrayed an immaturity inconsistent with his responsibilities. That word -- immature -- keeps coming up, both in the White House press briefing and with other critics. But the one aspect of McChrystal's criticism which has so far been downplayed in favor of the fact that he made any public criticism at all, is that in his opinion, Obama was unprepared in the first meeting they had to discuss Afghan strategy. And that sense of a lack of preparedness is what probably laid the groundwork for all the disparaging remarks which now has McChrystal in hot water.

What has been interesting about McChrystal's subsequent apologies is, while apologizing for making the remarks, he never retracted them, especially the comment that Obama was unprepared.

That has been a constant theme throughout Obama's presidency and was sadly apparent during his quest for the nomination. His argument that he was ready to be president from day one was a joke to almost anyone without an agenda. He had never accomplished a thing in 13 years of elected office other than simply getting a elected. And as his handling of what we can call his McHealthcare bill, and his inadequate response to the Gulf spill, McChrystal's harshest criticism -- that Obama was unprepared in an area as serious as the Afghan war should be getting more play. But it isn't.

It was no secret General McChrystal is and has been at deep odds with Obama over Afghanistan, a point that not many of the talking heads at the cable networks seemed to know. The division was pointed out by MSNBC contributor Col Jack Jacobs, who agreed that McChrystal should be fired for violating the American tradition of the military in never criticizing civilian leadership in public. At the same time Jacobs believes that its McChrystal who is right and Obama wrong in terms of policy. McChrystal feels he needs ten years for the strategy in Afghanistan to work and Jacobs feels McCrystal is absolutely right.

The problem is Obama will never give McCrystal 10 years because Obama's decision on Afghanistan in sending more troops in the first place was based on what so much of Obama's decision making is based -- politics.

It was during the healthcare debate when Obama was being savaged by the right that he decided to give McCrystal not the 40,000 troops he asked for but 30,000, a decision most of the people on the right who were criticizing him applauded.

But at the same time, Obama did what Obama does often -- talk out of both sides of his mouth, trying to satisfy all sides politically, by announcing a troop withdrawal at the same time he was announcing their deployment. It was like an Obama Afghan Value Menu where there was something for everyone. Additional troops for the right, ( so stop with the Hitler signs) and a withdrawal date for the left. At the time I called it Obama's Hello-Goodbye Afghanistan policy.

But there were indications McChrystal considered it foolish and that Obama's announcing a withdrawal at the same time he was announcing the additional troops, according to sopme military officials, demoralized everyone concerned with the policy. It also showed just how political Obama's decision was.

It was a McStrategy to announce the addtional troops and withdrawal at the same time, and if McChrystal wants to talk to a bunch of people demoralized by Obama's handling of an issue, he should talk to congressional Democrats about the health care debate.

McCrystal had made it clear that he thought it would take ten years to accomplish the mission as he defined it. And no way was Obama going to give him ten years when he knew the left would have gone ballistic. As it is the mission has gotten away from Obama and he is getting heavy criticsim on the left for Afghanistan.

Obama recently defined it as helping the Afghan people live a better life in peace and security, though only a few days ago he defined it as keeping Al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan with the focus of the mission being the war on terror. With two separately defined missions, its an indication that Obama himself doesn't know what the mission is, or what he thinks it should be.

There is no way the country can support a mission that is anything other than to destroy the Taliban to keep them from letting Al-Qaeda gain a foothold and conduct more terrorist attacks. But, like Viet Nam, the mission now seems ill defined.

So Obama has a huge problem. And that is the mission. The current mission in Afghanistan has been defined by McChrystal not Obama who simply agreed on the plan. But if Obama fires McChrystal what happens to the mission? And who is responsible?

McChrystal gives Obama cover since its McChrystal's plan. And for that reason Obama may keep him. But the best reason to fire McChrystal would be the opportunity to change the mission. Or end it.

The Afghans themselves have made it clear they don't want McChrystal fired. They don't want the upheaval what would ensue in a major change in leadership and chain of command.

For all these reasons there is a chance Obama will give McChrystal a break today on his McOutburst. If for no other reason than to continue the McStrategy and give Obama cover. It would also be framed by the White House as Obama's maturity and benevolence, rising above McChrystal's petty immaturity for the greater good. On the other hand, politically Obama could be concerned about appearing weak if he doesn't dismiss McChrystal.

Obama no doubt will play the part of the stern and angry president so his aides can pass on "how angry the president was" and the dressing down he gave McChrystal. But this could also be an opportunity to change course in the war. But if that doesnt happen, no matter what Obama does, it wont change what matters most -- Obama's war in Afghanistan. Which no one sees as a Happy Meal.

It's a dicey situation. Col. Jack Jacobs has pointed out that at the root of the whole problem and what was behind the derision in the first place, is Obama's lack of leadership regarding the war, or as Jacobs more diplomatically put it, "no leadership at the top". It's been stated over and over again that McChrystal has been frustrated that, in terms of the civilian leadership,no one seems to be in charge, a complaint that congressional Democrats made about Obama during the health care debate and most recently has been made of Obama and the response to the Gulf spill. Not exactly ready to be president on day one.

On the other hand, military derision of civilian authority is dangerous no matter who is president and it cant be tolerated. On the face of it, McChrystal has to be dismissed, even if, as Jack Jacobs has said, he is right about his criticism and policy conflict with Obama. But one thing is certain -- if he isn't dismissed, the reason will be Obama politics.

UPDATE: McChrystal was dismissed, and ironically, replaced by General David Patreus, George W. Bush's choice to lead the "surge" in Iraq that Democrats opposed. Notably absent at the announcement was former general and NSA Jim Jones, one of the targets of derision of McChrystal and his aides. It's an indication that much of McChrystal's criticism was well founded.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A successful military person knows to never speak ill of superiors, and I doubt McCrystal didn't know it. I think he must have weighed different options, and calculated that putting his foot in his mouth was the way out.