Skip to content

President Obama: Fire Gen. McChrystal

June 22, 2010

President Obama should promptly fire General Stanley McChrystal, lead commander in Afghanistan, for his recent remarks in the July 8-22 edition of Rolling Stone. In the article, “The Runaway General,” McChrystal showed genuine disdain for the Obama cadre, characterized as “poor judgment” by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. If President Obama does not fire McChrystal, he will be viewed as weak by the Pentagon establishment, troops in Afghanistan, Congress, the American people and McChrystal himself.  Above all else, the reason McChrystal should be fired: his strategy of counter insurgency (COIN)-winning hearts and minds-is not working.

First, belittling your boss may not be unprecedented, but it is surely reprehensible when done to a civilian administration charged with running a war by a sitting General charged with implementing their orders. McChrystal and his staff openly berate high level administration officials such as Ambassador Eikenberry, chief envoy Richard Holbrooke, and National Security advisor Gen. Jim Jones. Even Vice President Joe Biden, who favored a lighter counter terrorism strategy (CT-plus, as it’s known) over McChrystal’s COIN could not escape the juvenile remarks: “Biden? Did you say: bite me?” joked a McChrystal aide.

Second, if President Obama does not fire McChrystal in short order, he will be significantly weakened. As the Rolling Stone article details, McChrystal has a precedent for getting away with things; keeping him on only adds to this untouchable allure-especially to military personnel. Chatter in the proverbial foxhole will be simple: “McChrystal has some guts and free reign; he can get away with anything.” The Pentagon establishment will also have a hard time respecting the Obama administration if McChrystal is not fired. Since several members of Congress–including David Obey (WI), John McCain (AZ), Lindsey Graham (SC), and Joe Lieberman (CT)–have in one way or another condemned McChrystal’s remarks, President Obama risks losing political chips if he decides to simply wrist slap and reprimand. So far as the American public goes, undoubtedly opinions would be split, but I think I can say with confidence that keeping McChrystal in his current post would certainly weaken the President in most circles. For McChrystal himself keeping his job would only further affirm the invincibility he clearly views himself as having.

Last and most importantly, General McChrystal should be fired because his COIN strategy is not working, nor can any other military led campaign in Afghanistan be successful. The major offensive to drive out the Taliban in Marja is taking much longer than expected and the “government in a box” has thus failed to establish itself; in addition, the offensive in Kandahar has not even begun, though it was supposed to start months ago. In fact, while the U.S. has been forced to back off the Kandahar operation, the Taliban has announced its own spring offensive. True to their word, attacks and U.S. combat deaths are up significantly from this time last year. Even the troops on the ground are having a difficult time with the COIN strategy. Many soldiers complain that McChrystal’s rules put them at greater risk-only highlighting that military occupation in Afghanistan is unworkable. Not only is the strategy failing to win hearts and minds of Afghans-the fundamental intension of COIN-it is also losing the hearts and minds of the troops implementing the strategy and all with no signs of turning around.

Be not mistaken: McChrystal’s remarks are a definite game changer. Now is the time to seize the moment by pointing out the failure of McChrystal’s COIN strategy. President Obama must do so or he will be marginalized as a “war time” president, thus losing respect from places he cannot politically afford to lose respect. I’ve been saying for weeks now that there is a growing rift between the civilian and military leadership over the war in Afghanistan; President Obama must take back control of this strategy and begin deescalating. Even troops on the ground, such as PFC Jared Pautsh quoted in the article, are asking, “What are we doing here?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: