Removing outspoken Gen. Stanley McChrystal as commander of the war in Afghanistan, and replacing him with his boss, Gen. David Petraeus, is a quintessential Barack Obama move: It’s an attempt to placate both those people who said McChrystal had to go after Rolling Stone magazine published his disdainful comments about the president’s team and those people who said the war was at too crucial a juncture to make such a change.
The president’s statement that his decision was about neither policy disagreement nor personal insult underscores this sense. If it’s not about p0licy or personalities, why the change? Was the president really already on the cusp of making such a jarring change before the article came out?
By turning to Petraeus, who was McChrystal’s boss at U.S. Central Command and who successfully executed a counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy in Iraq and will now try to continue one in Afghanistan, Obama can argue that he’s keeping as much stability and continuity as possible while closing the book on an often-testy relationship between president and general.
Maybe it will work. For the sake of the soldiers still over there, we should all pray that it does.
I fear, however, that this is the beginning of a Washington consensus that the war has failed and it’s the military’s fault.
Until now, the left has pilloried George Bush for ignoring Afghanistan. The right has gone relatively easy on Obama when it comes to Afghanistan, although there has been plenty of criticism that Obama dallied in settling on a strategy in that war, erred in setting a July 2011 deadline for winding it down, has not been visible as disputes among his various representatives there boiled over (this last bit, not personal attacks on the president and vice president, makes up a large part of what the bulk of the Rolling Stone article actually detailed).
There will be a temptation now, I’m afraid, to blame McChrystal’s loose lips for dooming this war. The magazine article also highlighted discontent with the general among some soldiers in Afghanistan; the COIN strategy would have worked, we’ll hear from some quarters, if McChrystal hadn’t been such a hard head, an egomaniac, an envelope-pusher, a ______.
Never mind that the ultimate goal has been vague, the political support tentative, the attention paid to it (under Obama as well as Bush, by the public as well as politicians) sporadic.
I hope I’m completely wrong about all of this, that Petraeus comes in, kills more bad guys, identifies more good guys and empowers them — and that Obama does what is necessary on his end to ensure Petraeus’s success. Because if my fears come true, that’s when we truly will have landed back in Vietnam.