CONTENTION OF THE DAY – since we’re stuck with Obama, it’d be better for McChrystal to go

Who has the sense that President Obama is politically and morally invested in the surge being ramped up in Kandahar? When does he speak of it in public? When does he lend the weight of statesmanlike rhetoric to the military effort in its specific incarnations? As commander in chief, he has confined himself largely to expressing generic thanks to the troops for their service and sacrifice. He speaks occasionally about political relations with Afghanistan and the Karzai regime, but we never hear him making a military-operational case for NATO’s endeavors there — or tying the military approach to our political goals.

That is a virtually unique failing in an American president. Think back through all the presidents in your lifetime: each one of them, even Jimmy Carter, gave a stronger impression of integrated, accountable leadership in the military realm. This is not a matter of putting on a show or cultivating appearances either. The issue is conveying that what’s being done in the field in Afghanistan represents the president’s will and intention and has a purpose he is fully committed to.

The truth is, however, that there is no commitment to an objective. That’s what it means when Obama’s advisers speak vaguely of a “less-capable national government” for Afghanistan than for Iraq, a “greater tolerance of insurgent violence,” and “not doing everything and not doing it forever.” I believe, with Max Boot and others, that Afghanistan is winnable; but even with McChrystal’s strategy, I do not believe it can be won while the political guidance is temporizing and uncommitted. Military force is a tool of political will, not a substitute for it.

Sadly, a chastened General McChrystal will function even less effectively in this environment. When your job entails offering unpalatable truths and unwelcome advice, breaches of trust are very hard to overcome. In this painful situation, it would be a better sign of Obama’s own engagement if he picked a new commander. If he doesn’t, I wish McChrystal all the lucky breaks he can get. He’s going to need them.

JE Dyer @ Commentary » Contentions » “The Missing Link: It’s Not McChrystal”


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23 comments on “CONTENTION OF THE DAY – since we’re stuck with Obama, it’d be better for McChrystal to go

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  1. JE Dyer has a big problem. Because Real Contentions doesn’t allow comments,she avoids criticism that she would have to face at ZC. Take her recent piece on Afghanistan,
    “I believe, with Max Boot and others, that Afghanistan is winnable; but even with McChrystal’s strategy, I do not believe it can be won while the political guidance is temporizing and uncommitted. Military force is a tool of political will, not a substitute for it.”

    In what respect then is Afghanistan Winnable,If we had another CIC,but we don’t,in fact. JED description of Obama then specifies why under his leadership,Afghanistan is NOT WINNABLE.
    “Who has the sense that President Obama is politically and morally invested in the surge being ramped up in Kandahar? When does he speak of it in public? When does he lend the weight of statesmanlike rhetoric to the military effort in its specific incarnations? As commander in chief, he has confined himself largely to expressing generic thanks to the troops for their service and sacrifice. He speaks occasionally about political relations with Afghanistan and the Karzai regime, but we never hear him making a military-operational case for NATO’s endeavors there — or tying the military approach to our political goals.
    That is a virtually unique failing in an American president. Think back through all the presidents in your lifetime: each one of them, even Jimmy Carter, gave a stronger impression of integrated, accountable leadership in the military realm. This is not a matter of putting on a show or cultivating appearances either. The issue is conveying that what’s being done in the field in Afghanistan represents the president’s will and intention and has a purpose he is fully committed to.”
    Again,not challanging Dyer on Obama,what makes it winnable in reality? It’s only winnable if something changes,like the CIC.
    http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/j-e-dyer/318376

  2. @ Rex Caruthers:

    Rex, how the heck can you argue with Dyer about “winnable” when she doesn’t give any indication of her meaning?

    She’s just being a mope complaining about a perceived failure of Obama to thunder about this series of skirmishes in the language befitting of a holy war.

  3. Parson Logic T ReFog

    You’ll never get that sort of a definition from the ever slippery JED. But,I’m an old school armchair commander. Here’s how Americans win wars.
    (1)Under the Category of Political Will,you need an actual Congressional Declaration of War plus a Draft. The Draft allows you the massive manpower to win,and forces you to have a plan that “Citizen” Soldiers can work with. “Citizen” soldiers don’t have military careers and pensions to fret about,they want to win,win fast,and get home. All that is for the best.
    (2)Massive superiority in manpower and Materiel.
    (3)Winning is the only thing.
    (4)Have lots of Allies with you that are fully committed to win.

    With the exception of the Persian Gulf War*,we haven’t won a war since 1945 based on my criteria.
    *We won that because Iraq was unpredictably weaker than anyone had realized.

  4. Our so called Commander In Chief, Mister Peanut, also has a big problem. Each morning the man wakes up and starts pinching himself. The whole point of his Presidency is that he is The President. It’s a celebration, you see. It’s the same like WOW experience day after day, every day.

    It’s hard enough for him for him to believe even when he’s flying around on Air Force One, but when his top general in Afghanistan disrespects him, it makes it that much harder for 0bama to truly believe that he is actually The President. MacCrystal should be replaced all right, and the person who replaces him should remain at attention right outside the Oval Office at all times. This will help to show the world who is The President of the United States. It will.

  5. I pride myself on being the weirdest creature in the room…….

    but this is an awfully weird room.

  6. Parson Logic T ReFog wrote:
    I pride myself on being the weirdest creature in the room…….
    but this is an awfully weird room.

    Very addictive,however.

  7. @ Parson Logic T ReFog:
    Apparently not quite yet.

    The challenge is the same one we’ve had ever since the end of WW2: rallying a democratic culture in support of limited objectives.
    “Alright everyone, let’s lose as few people as possible preventing the overall situation from slipping too far against us!”

    Rex, how the heck can you argue with Dyer about “winnable” when she doesn’t give any indication of her meaning?

    She’s just being a mope complaining about a perceived failure of Obama to thunder about this series of skirmishes in the language befitting of a holy war.

    You can fault JED for a certain lack of clarity or specificity in that post, but she implicitly adopts the war aims as laid out in the McChrystal strategy, which I believe are the same as yours.

    Assuming the strategy is conscious and not just a path of least resistance, Obama seems to want to disinvest in the war on the level of emotion and credibility, so that no one gets too excited about it or how it goes. It makes a certain amount of sense, but puts a lot of pressure on the uniformed leadership to provide direction and maintain morale, and deal with the friction between going out and risking your life and giving 110% effort halfway around the world in the middle of nowhere, and a civilian leadership that doesn’t seem to care enough to get its signals straight, and otherwise wants to keep the public disengaged. Even a professional force represents and depends on the public will.

    It’s so far given Obama great freedom of movement. There are burblings and gurglings in the war and politics junkie press, but he’s hardly ever asked about it. That’s why he doesn’t go out and sell it harder – why should he?

    Maybe the costs are finally coming home. The more publicity, the more constriction and the higher the perceived stakes, until we reach the familiar point where the military or security significance of any particular decision gets inflated: McChrystal in cooperation with the Rolling Stone has created such a situation, violating the overarching No-Drama strategy. The question is whether this whole thing says anything about the strategy itself in PR and military aspects, and its sustainability, or whether its purely a personal problem having to do with McChrystal’s “style,” in which case things ought to revert back to “normal” with or without him.

  8. @ CK MacLeod:

    I’d be very glad if McChrystal hasn’t actually resigned and, more respectfully, waits for the meeting with the President to be instructed as to what he should do.

    You can fault JED for a certain lack of clarity or specificity in that post, but she implicitly adopts the war aims as laid out in the McChrystal strategy, which I believe are the same as yours.

    I’m also happy to think that JED and I have common aims , but I will not attempt to guess at her meaning on something of this complexity and on assumptions vaporous.

    I’ve no idea what she sees as a win and whether “even using McChystal’s strategy” means an identification with McChystal’s reputed war aims.

  9. I agree that 0bama is in deep doo doo, now that he’s the laughing stock of the military. Getting through this will take some real creativity on his part if he is to win our troops’ respect, and get them to stop snickering at him as soon as they are out of earshot.

    Both he and Michelle should immediately undergo basic training as well as Airborne Ranger Advanced Training. From that point on, he and she should wear the good old fashioned garrison cap from WWII and Eisenhower Jackets.

  10. @ Parson Logic T ReFog:
    If yud assed me this aft, I’d’ve thought he was likely to go, but as more considered opinion is voiced, I’m thinking odds are shifting. See e.g. the WaPo article just RecBrowd.

    The Gen himself isn’t quoted as having said anything truly insubordinate. He apparently has the same opinion of joltin Joe that everyone else does. He’s got support in country.

    Most of all, O usually avoids anything that gives him sole ownership of strategy – which firing McChrystal and keeping the national security team might. A big move would raise the stakes even higher – draw further attention to controversial aspects of the strategy, implementation, course of the fighting, etc. Then, if things go badly, it will be “a disastrously poorly executed strategy that O failed to monitor and organize, in the hands of a general who overstepped on the atmospherics, but was really just putting out a ‘cry for help,’ that was misinterpreted for petty reasons, before a new general took over in an even worse situation.” And who knows what McChrystal and his friends will come up with in coming months and years if his career is effectively ended as a result of this?

    If O reprimands but keeps McChrystal, then he doesn’t admit anything, and may even earn some friends for not letting his (or anyone else’s) ego get in the way of supporting a good military man at a critical juncture, and the issue might just die down.

    It’s a close call because of Eikenberry and Holbrooke, and I’m way too far away and too little informed to guess how much they matter. Not saying anything I said above is a clincher, but I’d come down against JED on this one.

    Oh yeah, plus the article said McChrystal voted for O. Way things are going, O may want to keep every vote he can for 2012.

  11. Well Eikenberry doesn’t have that great a track record, in country, and Holbrooke’s seem to fail upwards since ’63, the latter looks more like
    Harriman in this scenario (re the Diem coup)

  12. @ CK MacLeod:

    “Gen McChrystal has offered his resignation and it is on my desk. He will be returning to his duties for the present time.

    I’ll now return to my own duties while the General makes a statement. Please hold your questions until he finishes speaking.”

  13. @ CK MacLeod:

    Barring spectacular success, McChrystal is “see you in September” if he eats enough dirt now and Petraeus, Mullen and the other guys who rec’d him go the extra mile.

  14. Inside the Pentagon, feelings are mixed. The Rolling Stone article was a mistake, sure. But mostly, it was a bunch of macho-talk by anonymous assistants. The expectation is that Obama will simply let McChrystal twist in the wind to satisfy a D.C. media frenzy — and then send the general back to Kabul. The hope is that the White House won’t have fatally undermined McChrystal in the process.

    http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/

  15. Bereft of a navel to gaze,
    The amphibian archly assays,
    After dealing J. Dyer a sneer,
    That navel rich commenters here,
    Have reached a level of weird without peer.

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