Monday, October 05, 2009

General McChrystal Vs. Obama

Our commanding general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal has apparently stoked quite a bit of rage in the White House over comments he's made about the dire necessity of sending more troops there.

According to sources close to the administration, Gen McChrystal shocked and angered presidential advisers with the bluntness of a speech given in London last week.

The next day he was summoned to an awkward 25-minute face-to-face meeting on board Air Force One on the tarmac in Copenhagen, where the president had arrived to tout Chicago's unsuccessful Olympic bid.

In an apparent rebuke to the commander, Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, said: "It is imperative that all of us taking part in these deliberations, civilians and military alike, provide our best advice to the president, candidly but privately."

When asked on CNN about the commander's public lobbying for more troops, Gen Jim Jones, national security adviser, said:

"Ideally, it's better for military advice to come up through the chain of command."

What they're essentially saying is that McChrystal has been borderline insubordinate and that he's been embarrassing Obama by not keeping his mouth shut.

If you look at General McChrystal's record, he's a highly decorated pro from a career military family with an excellent record who has no history at all of being a maverick or a prima donna. What's going on here?

When McChrystal was selected by Obama as NATO commander in Afghanistan back in June, there were obviously two misconceptions going on, I think. As he's demonstrated any number of times, President Obama knows very little about Afghanistan and probably less about anything concerned with our military, but since he had been a major anti-war candidate with no experience with national security, he seized on Afghanistan as a major campaign issue to flex his muscles and appear presidential.

Having done that, he fell into a trap of his own making.Calling Afghanistan a 'war of necessity', the 'real war' that the Bush Administration had neglected may have made Obama sound macho, but he was smart enough to understand that it was sheer theatrics for the rubes. Obama had forcefully opposed both General Petraeus and the surge tactics in Iraq and he had to have understood that his far Left base was not going to support a surge in Afghanistan.

So it seems to me he likely needed some transition time to finesse himself out of the situation and a reliable commander to keep things together while he did it.

Enter General Stanley McChrystal, a proven commander with a solid record of success in Counter Insurgency warfare and Military Intel. I doubt Obama knew whom he was but when someone in Obama's circle recommended him (likely SecDef Gates) Obama figured that McChrystal would be able to keep the lid on things while the president figured out how to finesse an exit.

Except McChrystal figured he had been given command to win a war.

He started out with a mini-surge in July, and was probably mystified by the lack of attention and face time with Obama. Their second face-to-face meeting was his chewing out by Obama on the tarmac at the Copenhagen Airport.

Aside from that problem, other factors intervened to make the situation worse.The Taliban regrouped and became stronger, receiving covert help from Iran,the Gulf States and Pakistan. Disaffection with the American occupation and the Kharzhai government became worse among Afghanistan's Pashtuns, and finally, the war itself became more and more unpopular with the American people and our NATO allies, who were talking openly of dropping the whole idea.

McChrystal and his officers on the ground were looking at this as military men. They couldn't understand why their commander-in-chief would declare the war a necessity but deprive them of the resources to fight it properly.

It seems that McChrystal became genuinely afraid that events were overunning him and issued a confidential report calling for more troops and support. That unfortunately got leaked to to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. Then there was an article picked up by the wire services that quoted officers claiming that General McChrystal had stated he would resign if the president did not give him what he needed to implement his preferred strategy.McChrystal denied it, but the image of a military man trying to dictate to the president had been established.

The final straw, the one that led to the White House slapdown were remarks McChrystal made in London that were actually pre-cleared with the Pentagon on the necessity of sending more troops in or suffering mission failure. That apparently hit a nerve, and as we've seen before, this is a particularly thin skinned administration,.

Was General McChrystal insubordinate? Possibly. Military officers implement the orders of our civilian government, they don't originate them. But what's also likely true is that McChrystal's not an idiot, nor without a high sense of personal honor. If he sensed that he was being set up as the fall guy for failure and a subsequent retreat by Obama, he may have decided that a last ditch attempt to shame the administration into doing what he considered to be the right thing by both his mission and the troops he left behind was worth taking a chance on being relieved of his command.

To General McChrystal, his men aren't designed to take a bullet as cover for a political strategy, and he either wants the Obama Administration to man up and give them the resources they need to do the job he was assigned to do, or he'd just as soon have no part of it.

I guess we'll see what develops, but my guess is that same it was some months ago, a limited input of troops to save face, followed by a pullout with a very limited presence of advisers coupled with drone strikes. If that much.

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