Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The McChrystal Affair

The latest bump in the road for President Obama has now been navigated with the firing of General McChrystal, though the notion that he was fired for insubordination is off-the-wall. He was fired for probably two reasons that are connected: tension that has existed from the beginning between Obama and the general and the published accounts in Rolling Stone magazine divulging the contempt that either McChrystal and his aides, or both, felt for the civilians in the administration who called the shots, the top honchos of whom had never been in the military and had next to no understanding of the services, especially with regard to combat.

The choice of General Petraeus to succeed McChrystal is considered by the experts to be the best possible, though it actually is a demotion unless Petraeus also continues as head of Central Command, under which the Afghanistan action operates. Without doubt, he’s the most knowledgeable officer concerning the whole Middle East mess and was quite successful in his conduct of the northern Iraq action some years ago.

The supreme irony with the Petraeus choice is seen when remembering that Senator Hillary Clinton took time off from the campaign trail back in the day to appear in a Senate hearing for the grand opportunity of telling witness General Petraeus face-to-face that he was a liar, or, as she delicately put it in campaignese, that one simply had to suspend belief when listening to him. Now, when she visits Afghanistan she will just have to suspend belief again, while remembering that her attempt at being campaign-macho backfired, as did her enormous lie regarding her dodging the sniper bullets in Bosnia in 1996.

McChrystal’s mistake was in allowing a reporter (from Rolling Stone, at that) to follow him and his staff around for about a month. Whether by design (a distinct possibility) or naivete, the general had to know that the backroom conversations heard by the reporter would make the pages of the magazine. Obama and his crowd wouldn’t know enough about the military to understand that these conversations will always include ridicule toward both subordinate and superior officers, including even the commander-in-chief. The fact that neither Obama nor Biden has any military experience (something that should never be the case in their offices) simply furnished fuel for the ridicule.

McChrystal apparently was bugged by both special envoy to Afghanistan/Pakistan Richard Holbrooke and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Eikenberry (a retired lieut. gen.), who leaked (favorite ploy of politicians/bureaucrats) a memo he had written that McChrystal considered damaging, sort of backstabbing publicly, not unheard of in Washington. One wonders what Holbrooke is supposed to be doing since it would seem that State Secretary Clinton would not need a loud subordinate operating in sensitive territory…or does Holbrooke answer directly to Obama, in which case undercutting Clinton? Who knows?

So…McChrystal had to contend with running a war, pacifying a population (actually impossible), and dealing with superiors who he had to know were virtually clueless. Obama let it be known three or four times during his press briefing after the dust from the firing had cleared that he was commander-in-chief, perhaps not realizing that the citizenry might see him as merely a slick community-organizer from Chicago, the farthest thing from a military-minded CIC.

During the campaign, Obama made it plain constantly that he would not hesitate to send troops into Pakistan if the Pakistani government didn’t start taking out al Qaeda in its own country, another way of saying he meant to get bin Laden whether the Pakistanis liked it or not. Al Qaeda is essentially located in Pakistan now. In his statement of the 23rd, the president said this: “We have a clear goal. We are going to break the Taliban's momentum. We are going to build Afghan capacity.” Is this a mission-change? No. Pacifying the country and setting up a government has been the plan all along, but what about Pakistan and al Qaeda?

Obama’s statements during the campaign regarding Pakistan were reckless and irresponsible, something no one with an understanding of the Middle East would have advanced. He’s not about to send in the army to chase down bin Laden, assuming the butcher still lives. There may be a handful of small special ops outfits in Pakistan (actually doubtful) and the prez has made sure the drones do their job over Pakistan…but sending in the troops?

Obama was elected anyway and now doesn’t have to produce on that promise, like not producing on the promise to close Gitmo. But, one hopes he’s learned a thing or two on the job.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark