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McChrystal is gone – now what?

Unsurprisingly, President Obama has fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of our effort in Afghanistan, for remarks made in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine.

That’s unfortunate, but most people saw it as something that had to be done, given the importance of our Constitutional tradition of civilian control of the military. While a great general, his remarks couldn’t be allowed to stand without punishment.

That said, now what? Given the public remarks of McChrystal and his staff, it seems obvious to any fair observer that our Afghanistan strategy isn’t hitting on all cylinders and “team work” at the top is a buzz word, not a reality.

Maybe what would be easier to puzzle out is what shouldn’t happen now. McChrystal was the architect of the present strategy in Afghanistan. What shouldn’t happen, and would most likely spell final disaster there, is to again change strategies. All of the surge troops deployed to push that strategy forward won’t be in place until August. While McChrystal had asked for 40,000 troops, he only received 30,000. Regardless, the surge, in full, has yet to fully begin.

As we all know, the military piece is only a part of the solution, and, frankly, is a relatively minor one when talking about COIN and the peculiarities of the Afghan political landscape. A huge amount of work remains to be done on the civilian side of things there.

And, apparently, McChrystal is the only one who understands how important it is to form a personal relationship with the government and its leaders as a step toward reforming it and getting it to perform properly and competently with the goal of having it become a real national government:

McChrystal may hold the closest relationship of any American in what often has been a strained relationship with the Karzai government, says Jim Phillips, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. The Obama administration has been critical of Karzai’s efforts to fight corruption, although it has dialed back the rhetoric in recent weeks. “In Afghanistan, personal relations are critical,” Phillips says. “It’s difficult to build trust and working relationships. If McChrystal is suddenly replaced that would be a major blow to the Afghan and American military relationship and the Afghan and American governments’ relationship.”

The civilian team in place – Amb. Eikenberry, Holbrooke and others including the VP – have formed adversarial, even confrontational relationships with Afghanistan’s president and some government ministers. In an honor/shame society, that sort of a relationship is totally counter-productive. Unfortunately, with McChrystal gone, the only buffer to that sort of treatment has been removed as well as any reason for the Afghan government to cooperate.

Despite the remarks that sparked the relief, it apparent that the civilian side of the situation in Afghanistan has not been productive and may be staffed by the wrong people using the wrong approach. A full review of their actions and accomplishments (or lack thereof) to date is more than warranted given how little progress has been made in improving the governing ability of the Karzai government.

But back to the command options. It is critical that the Obama administration signal its intent to continue with the McCrystal/Obama strategy. It appears with the naming of Gen. Petraeus as the new commander, that is exactly the sort of a signal being sent. While it is a little of a step-down for Petraeus, politically and most likely tactically and strategically, it is an excellent choice. He is certainly familiar with the strategy and while he may tweak it, he’ll probably keep it mostly intact.

However, it will be interesting to see how Petraeus interacts with Eikenberry and Holbrooke. Remember the effectiveness of the Petraeus/Crocker relationship. No such dynamic has ever existed in Afghanistan. While the civilian side can probably skate on the McChrystal relationship, they’re going to have a much more difficult time doing the same thing with a more politically savvy David Petraeus, who most people consider to be a national hero.

Secondly, and just as importantly, the administration needs to make it clear that their June 2011 withdrawal date is “conditions based” instead of “firm”. A firm date is a signal to the bad guys that all they have to do is hunker down and wait it out. Making it conditions based makes the point that we’re not going to abandon Afghanistan. That, in and of itself, would go a long way to helping change the attitude in Kabul. If the “firm” commitment is kept, the Karzai government has no reason or incentive to make the effort to cooperate with the US strategy and may go out on its own to make a deal with the Taliban.

Keeping the “firm” withdrawal date can and will do more damage to the effort in Afghanistan than the Taliban could ever do.

Lastly, a caution – it is being reported by numerous sources that “the present strategy is falling out of favor” with many of Obama’s close advisors. Another change in strategy would also be fatal to the effort there.

As it happens, and as mentioned, Petraeus is a good choice both politically and strategically. But our effort in Afghanistan is in more trouble than an intemperate general’s remarks, and if some more big changes aren’t made, mostly on the civilian side, it is going to fail.



53 Responses to McChrystal is gone – now what?

  • It’s time for McChrystal to take to the greens and Obama to give up golf altogether.

  • McChrystal, by his own admission, used very poor judgement.
    and I couldn’t agree more.
    As an employer, I know how difficult it is to balance the employees goals and aspirations with those of the company as a whole.  Lots of times we get talented people who want us to move in directions we feel are not where we want to go as a company.  We try to balance their wishes with our company goals and sometimes these folks can get really frustrated at the pace of progress or critical  about the decisions we make.  In the end, however, it’s the guy who  determines the overall direction…not the employee.
    Employees who are unhappy with the way things are going are welcome to discuss their concerns in private and ultimately can always submit their resignation if their wishes can’t be met. 
    But one cardinal rule…employment 101…is, never air your personal opinions about your emplolyer in the press…especially while you are getting a paycheck.  That rule is so basic as to almost not need mentioning.
    McChrystals faux pas says more about McChrystal and his judgement ability than does his criticism of the administration

  • Petraeus.  The name sounds familiar…

    Isn’t that the same guy who the current Secretary of State publicly called a liar during the surge hearings when she was the junior senator from New York?  Didn’t one of the biggest donor groups to the Democratic Party take out a full page ad in the NYT overtly claiming that he betrayed us?  And now he’s Obama’s guy?


  • Isn’t moving Petraeus from Commander of CentComm to a Afghanistan as reasonably significant demotion?

  • And who’s keeping track of Iraq now?

  • So all of a sudden, Gen. Betray-us is acceptable to Baracky and his ilk?

  • The most striking comment in the post is:
    “Lastly, a caution – it is being reported by numerous sources that “the present strategy is falling out of favor” with many of Obama’s close advisors. Another change in strategy would also be fatal to the effort there.”
    That indicates that McChrystal’s complaints are not being addressed.  Simply throwing Patraeus into the same snake pit is unlike to change the snakes.  I do not expect Obama to address that side of the problem.

  • WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama ousted Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan on Wednesday, saying that his scathing published remarks about administration officials undermine civilian control of the military and erode the needed trust on the president’s war team.

    Obama named McChrystal’s direct boss — Gen. David Petraeus — to take over the troubled 9-year-old war in Afghanistan. He asked the Senate to confirm Petraeus for the new post “as swiftly as possible.”
    I did not know Senate approval was necessary for military appointments. Maybe for the Joint Chiefs, but at a lower level than that? I assumed that was strictly the prerogative of the commander-in-chief. Or is the nature of the undeclared war in Afghanistan such that this position is somewhat ambassadorial in nature as far as diplomatic protocol,  hence the need for Senate approval?

  • Petraeus is an excellent choice — Obama needs a politically savvy General there, and by all accounts Obama and Petraeus have a good relationship and mutual respect.  That’s important.  Yet it could be that Afghanistan is unwinnable — at least at a cost Americans are willing to pay (or is in our interest to pay).  Petraeus should assess whether or not the problems are too great to warrant continuing this strategy, and consider amove to a more rapid withdrawal.  Obama ultimately will make that call, but I suspect he will trust Petraeus’ judgment more than that of either his civilian advisors or McChrystal.   Just as all government programs, spending, the tax system and the like should be re-assessed due to the current economic crisis, we also need to rethink the nature of US foreign policy and how active we can afford to be — conditions are far different from what they were a decade ago, and so our interests.

    • I love how you gloss over the fact that Petraus is there not because he’s “politcally savvy” but because he IMPLEMENTED THE SURGE STRATEGY SUCCESSFULLY IN IRAQ.

      You know, the same strategy you (and Obama) derided constantly?  OOOOOOOOOOPS!

      • That surge thing failed in Iraq – Mooki Al Sadr is now ruler of Iraq, taking his direction from Iran, just as History has demonstrated.  We were all wrong, Scott was right,  of course.

        • Looker, I was right in predicting the failure of Bush’s strategy of spreading democracy, the claims Iraqi oil would pay for the war, Iraq would be a model, we’d have most of our forces out quickly, etc.  It turns out the war actually helped extremists gain more power in Iran (and they also have infiltrated Iraqi politics), helped extremists, took our eye off al qaeda and Afghanistan (which is why this is a problem).  The surge was a smart move to make peace with the insurgents (something the right insisted we could not do earlier because they ‘killed Americans’) and redefine the goal from being “Model Iraq” to “stable enough for long enough for us to get our butts out of there.”   And that’s still not a certainty, if you’ve followed recent news out of Iraq.
          It amazes me how many of you forget all the bombast from Bush and the GOP in 2003 about the Iraq war and what it would do, and then pretend that the surge somehow met US goals.  That shows a complete disconnect from reality.

          • Nah, you were, specifically, predicting the things I mentioned.  Have a nice day.

      • But you gloss over the fact that Iraq was a strategic failure — what was to be a short mission that would create a “model Iraq” to “spread democracy” and transform the Mideast turned into a long mission with tens of thousands dead, the Bush Presidency destroyed, the GOP domestic agenda shattered, and the upside, if not for Iraq, there’d be no President Obama.  The surge bought some space, but if you’re watching the news from Baghdad you’ll realize there won’t be any stable democracy in Iraq probably in our lifetimes — and Iran remains very involved with Iraq.
        But since Iraq was a failure, the surge succeeded in buying time to “declare victory and leave.”  We do need something similar in Afghanistan.

        • You can’t possibly be for real.  Do you live in a world where everyone wears sinister-looking goatees and acts the opposite of how they really are?

          • Well, shark, here’s how you judge whether a person is real.  Do they make substantive points and argue them.  Or, do they just mock the other person and avoid the substance.  You do the latter, you are unreal.  My points stand utterly unrefuted.  And you can’t refute them.   It’s clear that the US failed to meet its goals in Iraq (and there are still real problems there — Obama’s problems now), and Afghanistan is a mess.  The wars weakened the US and countries no longer fear us.  Nobody who has any foreign policy knowledge would say the Iraq war was a success or was worth it.  I think Bush had good intentions, but he vastly misread the situation.
            And you know I’m right.  Otherwise, you’d put up a real argument.  You know it, you just don’t have the character to admit it publicly.  I never understand that kind of hubris.

        • Waste.  Of.  Time.

        • Once again Erb gets to collect his 30 pieces of silver for spreading the Talking Points.  I wonder if he gets a bonus when he makes more than one entry?

        • Three objectives in Iraq:

          1. Remove Hussein regime. Rapid success.

          2. Help establish a new government. That consistently happened on schedule.

          3. Counterterrorism, then counterinsurgency. Took time via a long low-intensity war, about five years. Many dead terrorists; al Queda discredited. Civil society takes charge.

          Iraq has a shot for success as a reasonably modern society via a reasonably democratic system in the most backward and tyrannical region in the world. There were never any guarantees that this would work, but so far it is working. Excellent work by the U.S. military. Remarkable accomplishment. Depended all the way on Bush seeing it through.

          Erb, you’re an idiot.

          • Prof. Erb — Other than Martin’s parting shot, his were substantive points. Where are yours?

          • Scott is still working with the Leftist confabulations about Iraq that dominated the pre-Surge period when success was impossible. He never let that go and instead reworked the material so that, first, success was not really happening, then that success was just an illusion. Now it’s success is transitory, just wait.

            It’s interesting to note that from history we know that success is indeed transitory. And that short sellers like Erb have a permanent bet against anything that the U.S. does. Now he has a president who “thinks like me” and who seems determined to help Scott collect. Indeed, last year Iraq was a “great success” for Obama. If it starts to come apart, because of Obama’s lack of stewardship in managing the success, it will all be the fault of Boooooshh’s initial misadventure.

            Meanwhile, the real story was not failure in Iraq, but perseverance and success. Just take the record of carefully bringing along the establishement of a new government, through successive stages. Instead of noting that success, including the remarkable appearance of Iraqis at voting places, which could have cost them their lives, Scott always chose to babble on about hyperbolic nonsense, like “the greatest foreign policy disaster ever,” when even in the worst case scenario it wasn’t even in the ballpark.

            This Erb fellow is a complete fraud, but that’s the Left, and that’s what we have in control of our destiny, right now, until we can throw it off.

    • Obama and Petraeus have a good relationship and mutual respect.

      Petraeus I’m sure respects the office.  I greatly doubt he respects the voluntarily idiot who occupies it.  I mean, it would be like me respecting you, Erp…

      • No, they actually like and respect each other.  You should welcome that.  Oh wait, you’re one of those poor souls afflicted with ODS.  I pity you.  The next six and a half years will be difficult for you to take.   But if it’s any consolation, a lot of people had similar emotions in the eight years before Obama took power.   The pendulum swings back and forth, after all.  (Though I get a kind of delight in watching the ODS display itself — you guys really hate Obama and you can’t do anything about the fact he’s the President!  *chuckle*  You’re really the mirror image of the far left who hated Bush, you guys have more in common in basic personality than you realize!)

        • This from the guy with plain vanilla Derangement Syndrome.

        • No, they actually like and respect each other.
          Unless they are double-dating for dinner, plays and maybe bowling, there is no way you can know that.
          Obama and Petraeus are professionals and they know how to get along as professionals. That is not the same thing as “liking” or “respecting” each other. You ought to be able to understand this from your own faculty meetings.

          The fact remains that Obama has opposed, undermined, misled, lied, and never apologized about the Iraq War — the centerpiece of Petraeus’s career. Obama harassed Petraeus under the national spotlight. I rather suspect that a person as astute as Petraeus noticed this and  remembered, even if he does not invite Rolling Stone reporters over to hear his subordinates complain about Obama.

          Obama has trained himself since he was a teenager to conceal his feelings from white people — see his memoir — and Obama is the most opaque president we have had in modern times. I don’t know and wouldn’t presume to say who or what Obama likes and respects. You shouldn’t either.

  • It is necessary. Usually it is done in bulk and as a formality, but not for senior officers in critical posts.
    I am concerned, though, that Obama is unlikely to change strategy. I disagree with Bruce, on the grounds that the surge strategy was never the right choice for Afghanistan. First, it requires large manpower commitments, which are very, very difficult to supply unless we’re willing to go to war with either Iran or Pakistan if necessary to ensure our supply. Second, it requires that we be prepared to stay indefinitely for people to come over to our side, which was reasonable in Iraq, but simply is not reasonable in Afghanistan, where we have far fewer long-term interests. Third, it avoids the three real problems that have plagued Afghan strategy since the Taliban fell: failure to name the enemy specifically; failure to fight the enemy wherever he is; and reliance on a category error, the assumption that Afghanistan is a country in the Westphalian sense.
    A far better strategy would be closer to the British imperial system: ignore the Karzai government, letting them stand or fall on their own; support particular tribal leaders who work in our interests; punish those who work against us (forcibly); do the same in Pakistan’s frontier provinces, ignoring the border entirely and placating the Pakistanis diplomatically for their domestic consumption. Substituting money for people, fighting the enemy (not the Taliban, who can be treated as a wayward tribe and punished as needed, but al Qaeda and related groups) where they are, and making certain sure that everyone around understands that (a) we are there until the terrorists are gone, and (b) we don’t care about Afghanistan or even Pakistan in any other serious way, would go a long way to getting us into a winnable war that actually advances our national interest. And doing so realizes reality for what it is, rather than attempting to bend reality to our convenience.
    So, yeah, we’re doomed, given our leadership (not just Obama; both parties suck at this).

  • “Øbama fires McChrystal”

    Mark it on your calender folks, this may be perhaps the only time in your life you’ll see this a$$hat be a stickler for the Constitution.

    • Don’t mistake this for being a stickler for the Constitution.  Guarantee that never entered into his head.  This is about the boss being publicly bad mouthed by his subordinate.
      The same thing would happen in any business in the US given similar circumstances.

      • To be sure, McChrystal resigned, he was not fired.

        • To be sure, you are a moron.

          • Wow, timactual, you can type an insult — you can call someone a name!  I’m impressed!

          • I would think, Scott, that in lieu of the harsh reality of a clinical diagnosis, “moron” is pretty friendly. It skips perfectly across your surface without getting into the muck below it.

            But I’ll give a go, with my long-standing assessment: passive aggressive narcissist with mild psychopathy (that last part accounting for your perpetual mendacity). And something new: emerging gender identity crisis. The little girl is growing up.

        • What is your point?  If he hadn’t resigned, he’d have been fired.  Which, incidentally is the correct choice, in the government or in private industry.  The Constitution has nothing to do with it.

  • Good move.

    And, Erb, STFU.

  • At this point I don’t think it much matters whether the strategy stays the same or not. COIN, although it seems to be the right strategy,  requires lots of manpower and lots of time, neither of which is available.

    • Then we should extricate ourselves from an expensive situation which does not serve the national interest.  If we don’t have the time, power or money to really “win,” then why be there at all?

      • Set in proper context, Scott believes that it is in the “national interest” to break up the United States. Too big. Too much concentration of power.

        But he always wants more government, more Europe (especially EU, though less rapturously of late), and more advantages for American enemies.