McChrystal and the Gang
As the internet continues to spew forth oil commentary regarding General McChrystal’s running off at the mouth, I find that more and more I’m coming around to the idea that President Obama should choose to retain McChrystal in Afghanistan. I refuse to believe–as someone who does find virtue in a counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan, a strategy that will not work over months but over years–that disrupting the chain of command, even for a fiasco as belly-floppingly painful as this, will not damage our strategy.
A lot of the commentary, particularly in the throes of SWJ comments, revolves around the idea that “no uniform is irreplaceable,” which is certainly true. But I don’t care about a uniform. I care about the plan, the mission, the strategy, the over-arching thing that we’re doing there, and that is bigger than any one man. It’s bigger than the President.
On the one hand, perhaps replacing McChrystal would buy the administration some time to extend the deadline on Afghanistan. “Here’s a replacement,” they could say, “so we need more time on the clock.” But frankly, my confidence in Mr. Please Everybody in that regard wanes with each passing day. Would the Obama administration actually take that brass ring? Doubtful. Maintaining a deadline, even a soft one, gives Obama some credibility with his detractors on both the left and the right.
But retaining McChrystal is the best thing for these counterinsurgency practices. As the man who largely advocated for them to the President, as the man who has been the boots on the ground for the better part of this first year of work, and as one of only a handful up upper-echelon US officials who can claim a good relationship with Karzai and his government, McChrystal should remain in position. It would be heartbreaking to lose the bigger picture because an old white dude flapped his jaw to the wrong reporter.
According to Spencer’s report on the White House press briefing earlier this morning, it’s hardly clear which way the wind is blowing at the WH.
None of that sounds like a White House that’s ready to scrap its counterinsurgency strategy in the year to go before it begins to shift to a heavier focus on training Afghan forces and withdrawing troops. But McChrystal will have to reiterate his commitment tomorrow to working with the team that, in many ways, signed onto a strategy he himself largely convinced the president to support. “This is bigger than anybody on the military or the civilian side,” Gibbs said. Translation: McChrystal can go or stay, but the strategy has been set. And that may be the greatest irony of the entire McChrystal imbroglio.
And the vocally vocal Senate is as split as the blogosphere on “should he stay or should he go,” with Sen. McCain, Lieberman, and Graham pressing for ousting, and Sens. Levin and Kerry less predisposed to smiting from the Hill.
This was filed only hours before McChrystal is reported to have sent in his resignation (via Joe Klein and some dude from Twitter). That doesn’t mean he’s out of the game. It’s certainly the only reasonable politic move he could make, given the circumstances. But I’m hoping that Obama chooses not to accept the resignation; that instead he demands a higher level of service and imbues Afghanistan with the gravitas it deserves. It’s a serious game we’re playing here, with the well-being of a dozen nations involved. If the President wants to show the American people the war he has backed since March 2009 is worth the effort, he should wipe aside the juvenile bullshit and tell McChrystal to get his ass focused on the mission. Like the Commander in Chief ought to.