Do you think that a President might get a little miffed when his battlefield commander goes public in demanding a decision from his Commander in Chief? Would a President get his feathers ruffled when that commander also publicly pronounced other options unacceptable and compared them to letting half a building burn to the ground? Just possibly, according to the London Telegraph:
According to sources close to the administration, Gen McChrystal shocked and angered presidential advisers with the bluntness of a speech given in London last week.
The next day he was summoned to an awkward 25-minute face-to-face meeting on board Air Force One on the tarmac in Copenhagen, where the president had arrived to tout Chicago’s unsuccessful Olympic bid. …
An adviser to the administration said: “People aren’t sure whether McChrystal is being naïve or an upstart. To my mind he doesn’t seem ready for this Washington hard-ball and is just speaking his mind too plainly.”
Well, at least McChrystal finally got a face-to-face meeting with the President after that speech. After McChrystal’s appearance on 60 Minutes, it seemed as though it would have taken an act of Congress to get McChrystal some face time with Barack Obama.
As for naïveté, the real question is about Obama’s comprehension of the war and international relations, especially after the embarrassing performance in Copenhagen. McChrystal may not know the ways of Washington, but that’s not his battleground. It seems as though Obama knows Afghanistan less than McChrystal knows the Beltway, and that should be much more of a concern for the White House and its advisers than whether McChrystal is playing by Marquess de Queensbury rules while speaking publicly.
Jules Crittenden says that Obama should have learned a lesson about stalling generals while they await the CinC’s direction:
Theoretically Obama must be PO’d at Petraeus, too, because he essentially, if more diplomatically, said the same thing a couple of weeks earlier.
The big question now is whether this is going to be about Obama’s ego, or about winning in Afghanistan. If any general is ill-advised to shoot his mouth off, this business may also teach the administration something about blowing off generals at (unnecessarily extended) criticial moments and insisting that political parameters trump military ones in wartime.
McChrystal didn’t act insubordinately by speaking his mind. This is not even close to the situation which forced Harry Truman to cashier Douglas MacArthur in the Korean War, when MacArthur dared to publicly challenge Truman’s authority and judgment. McChrystal may have acted in an impolitic manner, but at this point, I doubt McChrystal cares much for political niceties. He has waited weeks for an answer to his analysis and request for more troops and resources, and he’s apparently not worried about being honest about his assessment in public.
Up to now, Barack Obama has made good moves in supporting the war in Afghanistan and adopting intelligent positions on resourcing and strategy. But as I wrote earlier, he’s reached a point where he has to decide whether he’s willing to go in for the long haul and actually win this fight over a period of years, or whether he will cave to his Left and refuse to make that kind of commitment. Hopefully, Obama will stick to his commitment made during the campaign to fight the war to a successful conclusion and break the backs of radical Islamists in the Af-Pak theater, but he’s going to have to actually make a decision instead of voting ‘present.’ If a speech by McChrystal that states nothing but the obvious gets this far under his skin, I suspect that decision will be a retreat.
Update: Jazz Shaw argues that McChrystal ought to be cashiered for insubordination, but there’s one fundamental problem with his argument. Nothing McChrystal said contradicts what the White House has said all along on either tactics or strategy. In fact, the only reason McChrystal’s speech is controversial at all is because the White House appears to be wavering now on Afghanistan, which isn’t McChrystal’s doing. Nothing in McChrystal’s speech differs from the “one voice” argument in the present status; it’s that it might differ if Obama changes direction.