McCain: Replacing McChrystal is just half the job

Senator John McCain gives Barack Obama good marks for taking command of a messy situation with General Stanley McChrystal and appointing General David Petraeus to replace him, but the job’s only half done, he tells ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. The problems in the Afghanistan effort did not begin and end with McChrystal, and Obama needs to show some command authority in the rest of the team. McCain doesn’t mention anyone by name, but he clearly wants to see Karl Eikenberry out of the embassy in Kabul and replaced with more of a team player:

A day after President Obama replaced the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan , Gen. StanleyMcChrystal, with Iraq War architect Gen. David Petraeus, Sen. John McCain urged the president not to stop there.

“It’s completely understandable why the president made the decision that he did, based on the civilian-military relationship that goes a long way back…” McCain said today on “Good Morning America.” “I also point out to the president, with my strong support of Petraeus, we also need a new team over there as well — perhaps at the embassy and other areas.”

Indeed.  If Obama wants a no-drama approach to the war, then Eikenberry has to go, too.  The American ambassador alienated both the American military leadership and the government in Kabul by publicly objecting to Hamid Karzai through leaked cables.  After that eruption, Karzai has relied on McChrystal and the American diplomatic team has been less than effectual.  If the White House has determined to work with Karzai as a partner, Eikenberry should have been relieved immediately.  Had Obama acted then, it’s possible (although by no means certain) that McChrystal might have learned a lesson and wouldn’t have necessitated a mid-surge replacement at the top.

McCain also emphasized his position that the eventual drawdown of troops had to be conditions-based, and wants Petraeus to underscore that in his new role:

Petraeus reaffirmed his support for the president’s strategy, including the withdrawal date Wednesday, but McCain implied Petraeus’ advice to the president could change as the withdrawal deadline looms closer.

“I believe Gen. Petraeus can do the job and I’m convinced Gen. Petraeus will say at the hearings that he will give his best advice to the president as to what the conditions are at the time, probably next year,” McCain said.

“You cannot tell the enemy when you’re leaving in warfare and expect your strategy to be able to prevail. That’s just a fundamental of warfare and I know it.”

Expect this point to be a major issue in Petraeus’ confirmation hearing.  It won’t slow down his confirmation, which will almost certainly be unanimous, but McCain and others will take this opportunity to scold Obama for announcing timetables as part of his surge.