Tag Archives: McChrystal

Obama’s Military Problem

23 Jun

General McChrystal, one of the country’s best military minds, has been fired for having a (at best) nonpolitical or (at worst) judgment-poor one. In his place enters demoted General Petraeus, who leaves his coveted Central Command post to pull another President’s ass out of the fire. The savior of the Bush Iraq legacy is now janitor to the Obama Afghanistan policy.

In his speech today, President Obama called for unity. But one major casualty of a long, drawn out, public airing of grievances when formulating war strategy is exactly that. At the end of the day, the military always must salute smartly to civilian leadership; it is a key strength of our country that our military always does so. McChrystal was way off base (though not a breaker of the Code of Conduct, as Obama mentioned), and needed to be sacked. But just because General McChrystal was wrong on tact and judgment does not make him wrong on facts. Obama has an Afghanistan problem, and a military problem, and today made neither better.

McChrystal’s key complaint, or revelation if you will, is that the Obama administration is fragmented, out of touch, and unsupportive. How could be anything but? Despite Obama’s complaint that the Bush administration took its eye off the ball on Afghanistan, he clearly is more consumed by Healthcare, the Economy, the BP Oil Spill, and even Immigration than the war. The meeting McChrystal was kicked out of was the monthly Afghanistan War meeting that the President attends. Obama has visited Afghanistan once since announcing his Surge. The administration is thinking about other priorities, and even on Afghanistan, does not speak with one voice. Despite a career as a lawyer and Senator, Vice President Biden fancies himself a strategic mastermind, and was publicly at odds with the military before, during, and after the Surge decision was made. His Stand-Back-and-Shoot-Missiles-At-Them approach didn’t work during the Clinton years, and makes as many terrorists as it kills now in Pakistan. Media savvy Ambassador Eikenberry publicly undermined and outmaneuvered McChrystal, who know where Holbrooke and Jim Jones are, and the Secretary of State is concentrating on other areas of the world. The War in Afghanistan is not even the number one foreign policy issue, much less a priority of the President’s. If McChrystal feels alone and abandoned, do you blame him? 

Chris Smith laid out this morning that McChrystal gave a giant middle finger to the country as a whole, and was a torturer to boot. This is as ludicrous as it is off base. As that Esquire article points out, and those in the “black” or “grey” worlds know, no one has any idea who works for which agency, once the operations begin. That McChrystal was any more involved in the spectrum from interrogations to torture is conjecture at best and libel at worst. But even if he was the Chief Water Dripper, was he not following the leadership of the civilian authority, as “Cheney’s man” (Chris’ mocking title), what we’re mad he didn’t do now? And don’t tell me that officers have to only follow “lawful orders;” the jury is still out on the legality of any of those actions (note the Obama administration’s continued use of Gitmo and rendition). And finally, if McChrystal is such a heinous Cheney torturista, why did Obama hire him in the first place? In the end, the buck stops with the Obama administration’s failed procedural and bureaucratic approach. I say it all the time, but at the end of the day. Americans do not want large or small government – they want competent government. The Bush administration screwed up the Iraq War from the start, and was killed for it. Should we not have learned something, and not make the same mistakes?

Which leads to Obama’s larger military problem. McChrystal was very popular with the troops, and while Petraeus is generally regarded as a rock star, most soldiers aren’t happy when their popular leader is let go for simply “speaking the truth” about a war they are frustrated with. If a President popular with the military were taking the action, it would go over better. Nuke dropping Truman could fire MacArthur. But the military, demographically, is not Obama’s base. As military bases closed throughout the Northeast and Midwest, Blue States lost their personal connection to the armed forces, and fewer sons and daughters joined. The military has consolidated its large posts in Texas, the Southwest, and Southeast: Red America. And while the South has always had a proud military service tradition, drafts and recruiting have previously kept the map balanced. No longer. The military will always follow orders, but when an unpopular Commander-in-Chief lowers already poor morale, it makes the administration’s already tough job only harder.

Did Obama have any choice but to fire McChrystal? Probably not. But now that we’re here, how does he get the unity of effort he desires? And will Eikenberry and Biden get private dressings down for setting up for failure the President’s general of choice?