Obama: McChrystal showed poor judgment but the mission is paramount

He says he won’t make any final decisions until after they meet tomorrow, but here’s a heavy hint from this afternoon’s war cabinet meeting that big Mac might keep his job after all. “I know Secretary Gates feels the exact same way,” says The One about prioritizing victory over punishment for insubordination, but how true is that? Gates has pulled the trapdoor on many a general in his day, which is not to say that he’s prepared to risk defeat to send a message about discipline but rather that he seems to think the Pentagon’s bench is deep enough to risk late-inning substitutions.

Regardless, via WaPo, here’s a sneak preview of the inevitable spin if McChrystal does indeed hold on:

“My advice is to call him back to Washington, publicly chastise him and then make it clear that there is something greater at stake here,” said Nathaniel Fick, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now chief executive of the Center for a New American Security. “It takes time for anyone to get up to speed, and right now time is our most precious commodity in Afghanistan.” If Obama believes the current counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan is the right one, then he cannot afford to jettison McChrystal, Fick said…

A senior Pakistani government official said Monday that many in Pakistan already believe the Americans lack a long-term strategy in Afghanistan. The possibility of McChrystal’s being removed only deepens Pakistan’s skepticism about chances for a U.S. victory in Afghanistan, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive policy assessment.

“Now, the person who helped craft that strategy, if he’s not on the scene, how will you take this process forward?” the official added.

A “senior official” tells NBC that McChrystal can save his job tomorrow if the meeting with Obama goes well. In fact, I wonder if one benefit in The One’s mind of keeping Mac on is what Fick alludes to in the blockquote — namely, it’ll allow him to stick with his timetable to begin withdrawing next summer. McCain has already seized this as an opportunity to pressure Obama towards relenting on the drawdown schedule and moving to a “conditions-based” approach; if O cans McChrystal, the argument for doing that becomes stronger since the new commander will need time to get up to speed. Obama clearly isn’t willing to be there forever, though: If he was, he wouldn’t have announced a withdrawal date in the first place, and given the lack of progress after six months and grumbling among his base, he surely doesn’t want to prolong the commitment. Keeping McChrystal gives him the political cover he needs to eventually say, “hey, we tried.” In the meantime, he gets to look magnanimous by forgiving an act of poor judgment and offering a new vote of confidence in his commander.

Exit question: Does he stay or does he go? Get your predictions in now!