A few hours ago the President announced that he was going to accept the resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the top U.S. commander for Afghanistan “with considerable regret.” He called it a “difficult decision” that “saddened” the him. With Vice President Joe Biden and his top military aides standing by his side, he also announced the nomination of the current head of Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, to replace McChrystal in Afghanistan.
Ironically the entire incident wouldn’t have happened were it not for the volcano eruption in Iceland:
Michael Hastings had been due to interview the general in Paris, and then fly with him to Kabul, where he would conduct the typical tightly-controlled access interview that was only due to last two days.
But when the volcano grounded flights across Europe, Gen McChrystal and his aides were forced to take a bus to Berlin, and Mr Hastings joined them for the road trip, gaining unfettered access to the entourage during their down time in an interview that lasted nearly two weeks
But it did happen, and now General McChrystal has “been resigned”.I know that many of my regular readers will say I have lost my mind (trust me, its much too late for that) but I believe the President made the correct decision. In fact, this may the first time since he was inaugurated that Obama showed real leadership.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe that Obama’s mis-handling of the Afghanistan War led to the legitimate griping displayed by McChrystal and his staff in the now famous Rolling Stone article. McChrystal asked for 60-80,000 troops and an open-ended commitment, Obama gave him 30,000 troops and one year. He is correct General Jones is a Clown, Richard Holbrook is a whiner who is worried about being fired, and Eikenberry is a snake who doesn’t get along with the Afghan government. The fact that there is this simmering dysfunction within Obama’s war council is a testament to Obama’s poor leadership in conducting the war.
That said, I’m not sure how Obama could have handled this last 24 hours any better. His actions were correct, decisive and he did it without leaks. Unfortunately General McChrystal had to go and not because of this president, this war, or even this general. In our Democracy it is the civilian leadership that makes the rules, the military leadership is subservient to the President and duty bound follow his orders without publicly questioning those orders.
It is true that when you read the entire Rolling Stone article, most of the worst comments were made by the General’s subordinates. It is also true that the General knew about the comments and did nothing to stop them. The actions of the General and his staff were a direct act of insubordination to the civilian leadership, especially General Jones and the SMOTUS, VP Biden. Even if the comments were a minor act of insubordination, for the good of the country and the constitutional power of the President and future presidents to act as the unquestioned Commander-in-Chief of the military General McCrystal had to go. Just as Lincoln had to fire McClellan, and Truman had to fire MacArthur, Obama had to fire McCrystal to keep the chain of command sacrosanct.
I also believe that Obama’s choice of General Petraeus as a replacement for McChrystal was a brilliant move. Petraeus is acknowledged as the man who saved the Iraq war, the guy who wrote the book on the counter-insurgency strategy that we are trying to implement in Afghanistan, and someone who presumably can step in pretty seamlessly. Like McChrystal, Petraeus has great misgivings about the July 2011 deadline, but has the the clout and credibility to tell the president that he can’t afford to go down in troops when the deadline approaches, if it is not the right thing to do.
In short, Obama took rotten apples and made apple sauce.
The only question remaining is will General Petraeus have the cooperation of some of the members of Obama’s team of progressives?