The problem is Obama
Share with others:
Because it is better for a president to be thought of as petty and vindictive than to be thought of as vacillating and weak, Barack Obama had to fire his commander in Afghanistan.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal wasn't actually insubordinate. But the reporting about the Rolling Stone article that sparked the controversy over his attitude toward certain figures in the Obama administration gave the impression he was.
It had to hurt a man with an ego as large as Mr. Obama's to read this description of their first one-on-one meeting:
" 'It was a 10-minute photo op,' said an adviser to McChrystal. 'Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was. Here's the guy who's going to run his (expletive) war, but he didn't seem very engaged. The boss was pretty disappointed.' "
It hurt more because few doubt this characterization of Mr. Obama's detachment is true.
But it was an unnamed adviser, not Gen. McChrystal, who made the remark to reporter Michael Hastings. And the shots taken in the article at Vice President Joe Biden, National Security Adviser Jim Jones, Special Representative Richard Holbrooke and "the wimps in the White House" all were attributed to aides and advisers, not to the general himself.
Still, this was Gen. McChrystal's second flirtation with insubordination. And Mr. Obama already has appeared vacillating and weak in his conduct of foreign policy and in his response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The thoughts expressed by Gen. McChrystal's colleagues are not rare in the U.S. military, but they are not supposed to be expressed publicly. It was appallingly poor judgment for the general's aides to be so frank with a Rolling Stone reporter, and for Gen. McChrystal to have granted him such access.
"Anytime a liberal journalist wishes to empathize with a frustrated officer, it is usually to exaggerate the officer's unhappiness and use it for his own political purposes, which rarely if ever are those of the military," said the military historian Victor Davis Hanson. "If an officer cannot figure out Rolling Stone, how can he understand the Taliban?"
The judgment was so appallingly poor some suspect it was deliberate. Among them is the author of the Rolling Stone article.
"I think they were frustrated with how the policy was going, and I think there was an intent on their part to get a message out about that frustration," Mr. Hastings told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Losing a war causes frustration.
Gen. McChrystal and his aides are frustrated because the deadline for beginning to withdraw troops that Mr. Obama set for next July deprives them of realistic hope of victory.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard about a conversation he had when he visited Afghanistan earlier this year.
"This Afghan leader told Barrasso that within hours of Obama's speech word spread that the Americans would be leaving in 2011," Mr. Hayes wrote. "Almost immediately local and national leaders began a mad scramble to ally themselves with anyone with lots of guns and some popular support, entities that would be around when the Americans left -- the Taliban, the Haqqani network, the Pakistani military and, yes, Iran."
Gen. McChrystal's soldiers also are frustrated by bizarrely restrictive rules of engagement which make it harder for them to kill the enemy and easier for the enemy to kill them.
Barack Obama has not been a wartime leader in the mold of Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt. Perhaps the only way Gen. McChrystal could have gotten Mr. Obama interested in Afghanistan is if he'd built a world-class golf course there.
But Gen. McChrystal hasn't been a Grant or MacArthur, either. Laurence J. Peter famously said that people in the corporate world tend to be promoted to a level beyond their competence. The Peter Principle applies in the military, too. A superb special operator, Gen. McChrystal seemed out of his depth on the larger stage.
Gen. McChrystal is more responsible than is the president for the restrictive rules of engagement, and he turned a blind eye to the massive corruption of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Mr. Obama now has replaced Gen. McChrystal with Gen. David Petraeus, the man who turned around Iraq. But it will mean nothing unless the deadline for troop withdrawal is dropped, the rules of engagement rewritten and a better strategic partner than Hamid Karzai found.
First Published June 27, 2010 12:00 am