Gen. McChrystal, President Obama, Ambassador Eikenberry and the Ugly Political War in Afghanistan
posted at 7:20 am on June 23, 2010 by Michael van der Galien
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.