Green Room

Gen. McChrystal, President Obama, Ambassador Eikenberry and the Ugly Political War in Afghanistan

posted at 7:20 am on June 23, 2010 by

Michael Yon - a journalist with a lot of contacts in the army, and who has, among others, been embedded in Afghanistan and Iraq – has written a lot about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan on his FaceBook page. He believes that both the military and civilian leaderships have failed in this war, and that McChrystal’s interview with Rolling Stone and the successive battle in the press are actually part of a political dog fight.

When asked who is responsible for what he calls “the mess” in Afghanistan, Yon replied: “Obama is part of the problem. McChrystal is part of the problem. Some say that Eikenberry is part of the problem but that’s getting out of my lane. Clearly this war is beyond ‘messed up.’ It’s schoolyard political while a serious war is blowing up.”

“It’s a political swamp,” he continued.

The situation in Afghanistan and the obvious lack of trust between the Obama administration on the one hand, and the military leadership (most importantly Gen. McChrystal himself) could lead to disaster. ” [I] have been saying since April 2006 that Afghanistan has [the] potential to overshadow anything we ever saw in Iraq,” Yon said. “Today, I stand by that stronger than ever.”

When I just heard the news that Gen. McChrystal had been summoned to the White House, I shared it with Yon on Twitter, who immediately answered that “McChrystal should be fired.” Although I was initially inclined to disagree – or to at least see things in a somewhat more nuanced light – I changed my mind when, moments later, Time published the actual Rolling Stone article. It is even worse than expected. Even if you believe that McChrystal’s criticism is to a large degree justified, he should have kept his mouth shut. A general has no business badmouthing his (civilian) superiors, especially not in front of a journalist. It is that simple. As Yon says on FaceBook page, “unless McChrystal basically denies the article, he must be fired. If he is not fired, I will start calling him President McChrystal because Obama clearly is not in charge.”

Having said that, although I understand the anger directed at the general, I don’t believe that firing him will make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. This is bigger than one general. From reading Yon’s updates about the war, it’s clear to me that both the military leadership and the civilian leadership are deeply divided. As if that’s not bad enough, they also seem too busy fighting each other to even think about permanently defeating the Taliban.

In other words, calling the situation in Afghanistan precarious would be quite an understatement, and pretending that if we just rid ourselves of the general all will be fine isn’t very convincing. Not to me, anyway.

Again, Gen. McChrystal has to be held to account for this incendiary article. There’s no way around it. But expect no miracles with regards to the state of the war in Afghanstan. If things are as bad as Yon says they are, it requires more than McChrystal’s resignation to clean up the mess, including a drastic change in Washington’s Afghanistan policy.

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I agree. As much as one can admire McChrystal and his Team America staff, surely they should know you cannot speak frankly to a Rolling Stone reporter. I frankly cannot believe that McChrystal would be that short-sighted (unless he wants out of his job in a blaze of controversy). Reports have surfaced which claim he was able to review the article’s assertions before publication/release (this is even more preposterous). The honorable thing would have been resignations, not blathering to Jann Weiner’s mag and dishonoring the civilian leadership (such as it is).

DoctorJohn on June 23, 2010 at 8:00 AM

Word is that he actually read the article and approved its release. That little nugget pushed me to the get rid of him camp. Tone deaf.

koolbrease on June 23, 2010 at 9:42 AM

“Insubordinate,” “inappropriate,” yada yada yada….

Has anybody, even for the barest fraction of a second, ever doubted that every word in the article is 100% TRUE?

Of course not. Firing McChyrstal may fix or exacerbate Obama’s problems. But it won’t do a damned thing to help America’s problems.

All the rules of military etiquette are predicated on the assumption that the high command is (albeit imperfect) at least minimally competent and not malfeasant.

Once that assumption is proven wrong, then ALL the rules go out the window.

If he is not fired, I will start calling him President McChrystal because Obama clearly is not in charge.”

Believe it or not, there is a word for that office: “plenipotentiary.” It only has meaning within a feudal or imperial system, and is entirely appropriate to the current situation in Afghanistan, and to the dispensation of the US military in general.

Of course, simply changing one particular overseer there to someone more adept at dissemblance will not change the situation one whit.

In Barack Hussein Obama’s mind, he has no enemies outside the United States. Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, even America’s troops assigned to NATO bases…. To Obama, they are all parts of a far-flung empire, irrelevant to his immediate concerns.

Until Obama can fully consolidate power in his own kingdom, all he wants the lords of his outlying provinces to do is stay quietly out of his way. And, as Obama has made clear so very many times: anything that hurts him helps America, and vice versa.

logis on June 23, 2010 at 10:44 AM

I wonder, when all is said and done, whether McChrystal threw himself on this grenade in order to force a realignment. The drifting, backbiting, and petty spatting are not getting the job done in Afghanistan, and soldiers’ lives are being lost while bureaucrats dither. The only way to get Obama’s attention on an issue is to make Obama the subject — and inattention is costing lives and the mission.

cthulhu on June 23, 2010 at 11:24 AM

There is no Washington Afghanistan policy. There is only the Obama agenda. Everything else is considered only in terms of what will advance or hurt that agenda. Obama allowed a troop increase — after ignoring it as long as he could — only because it gave him some political cover without costing him much of anything. What’s best for Afghanistan, what it will take to win the war, even what is best for U.S. interests, simply doesn’t matter.

There will be no change. Obama will do what he can to sweep this back under the rug where the media can ignore it, which means our troops are dying for nothing — which they are realizing.

zerosheep on June 23, 2010 at 12:33 PM

So it sounds to me like no one at the top gives a crap about any of the soldiers who are actually fighting this war. They’re not even pretending at this point. It’s disgraceful.

If McChrystal actually cared about those under his command, he should have gone about this whole thing in an appropriate manner. Mouthing off to the Rolling Stone isn’t going to do anyone any good, no matter how true his statements.

Vera on June 23, 2010 at 1:22 PM

If things are as bad as Yon says they are, it requires more than McChrystal’s resignation to clean up the mess, including a drastic change in Washington’s Afghanistan policy.

The wise man does sooner what the fool does latter. (Machiavelli)

Tav on June 24, 2010 at 12:10 AM