Of all the things America didn’t need at the moment, a seemingly irreparable divide between President Obama and his top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has to rank pretty highly. Yet, that’s just what we have following the release of some disdainful comments that McChrystal and his team made about the president and members of his administration to Rolling Stone magazine (read the article here — note that I’ve updated the link so that it goes to Rolling Stone’s own website … and be forewarned that it includes language we wouldn’t print in the AJC).
Perhaps we should have seen this coming. I defended McChrystal last September when he told “60 Minutes” that he’d had very limited contact with the president since taking command in Afghanistan. His comments then, I believe, were straight-forward answers to straight-forward questions. The Rolling Stone article appears to be another animal altogether. Americans have to be “disappointed” — to use McChrystal’s reported reaction to his first meeting with Obama — that a general leading a counterinsurgency effort that mixes politics and military strategy could be this careless about domestic politics.
It’s hard to imagine, or argue for, McChrystal surviving this episode. But the Washington Examiner’s Byron York raises a very important consideration for Obama in changing horses mid-stream:
Obama is in a bind with McChrystal. There’s no doubt Obama would be fully justified in firing his top general. But at the same time Obama has committed himself to a rigid timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan. Changing commanders could complicate that enormously. Right now, because of his own policy decisions, the president has no good choice.
The Obama administration has maintained all along that the withdrawal timeline is flexible. We may learn just how flexible it is as the president deals with this mess.