President Obama has announced that he accepted the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and named General David Petraeus, currently commander of U.S. Central Command, as his replacement.
Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic asked after the Rolling Stone article broke: “What the Heck Was McChrystal Thinking?” This seems to be the same question asked by President Obama. A “furious” commander in chief ordered the general to personally explain some bizarre and intemperate remarks about the White House national security team made by McChrystal and his staff in the magazine profile. Earlier today, McChrystal met with the president for 30 minutes, where apparently the decision was made to replace him with General Petraeus.
Would that our president could get “furious” about the jobs situation in the country or the Gulf Coast oil spill. But neither of those leaderless crises are affronts to the president’s personal pride, so they get the “cool and detached” treatment. Perhaps, if we’re lucky, those twin bumbles will also lead to detaching Barack Obama from the White House — if the good Lord will vouchsafe us a little luck and the GOP can get its act together by 2012.
Unfortunately, the Obama national security team’s incompetence in Afghanistan is doing a lot more damage than oiling up a few pelicans or causing enormous angst among American workers, both employed and unemployed. What’s at stake are the lives of young men and women, the safety and security of the United States, and the efficacy of the North Atlantic alliance that has lasted longer than any other mutual security pact in history.
McChrystal’s staff did most of the damage in the article, referring to National Security Advisor Jim Jones as a “clown” who was “stuck in 1985.” He nicknamed Vice President Biden “Bite me.” The disparaging manner in which they spoke of both Afghan Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and Special AfPak Ambassador Richard Holbrooke reveals a chasm that has opened up between the civilian and military leadership on what to do about bringing a satisfactory conclusion to our efforts in Afghanistan — a chasm that appears unbridgeable at this point and is contributing to the horrible sinking sensation many are feeling when looking at the situation deteriorate.
In truth, this is the major source of frustration for all sides in this spat; there simply isn’t a way forward that even smells like victory in the traditional sense. And as the months drag on, General McChrystal has found that the strategy that was so painstakingly drawn up and agonized over by the president cannot be implemented to any degree that would begin to make a difference in the security situation. Nor can the strategy change the dynamic in Kabul, where President Karzai sits atop a rickety government that is nowhere near ready to accept responsibility for the country’s security.
For one thing, the enemy is not cooperating by presenting themselves for execution. When Americans or NATO forces show up, the Taliban goes to ground, knowing all they have to do is wait a few months and most Americans will be gone, leaving the field to them. For another, the Afghan civilians are torn between the tyranny of the Taliban or continued war if they accept the legitimacy of their own government. It appears that being alive, albeit oppressed, is winning out over the alternative.
Couple that with McChrystal employing rules of engagement that many of our troops believe go too far in trying to protect civilians, and you have the worst of both worlds: a policy that so far has failed to achieve even minimal results, and rules that hamstring our soldiers just when the fighting is beginning to pick up in intensity.