22 June 2010

The McChrystal Controversy

The Rolling Stone magazine profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal has provoked calls for the Afghan commander's sacking or resignation, mainly because of disparaging comments made by members of his staff about Vice President Biden, other generals, etc. The article itself reads like one of Bob Woodward's exposes of the inner circles of power; the tone is gossipy and snarky at times. It is not a puff piece on the general itself; the author concludes that McChrystal's favored counterinsurgency strategy is untenable in Afghanistan. Nor is it a vehicle for the general to advocate for strategies contrary to those of his commander-in-chief. We learn that McChrystal was disappointed with the number of troops the President committed to the Afghan buildup (30,000 instead of 40,000), but it was the general's public advocacy of a buildup last year that helped convince Obama to commit any extra troops. If McChrystal's offense was going public to advocate his agenda for national strategy, then he should have been gone months ago. Even then, however, it wasn't a case of him going against the President, but a case of McChrystal making a case to convince an undecided C-in-C. Whether military strategy should be debated in public prior to a presidential decision is a subject for its own debate, but the idea isn't exactly inconsistent with democracy.

The McChrystal profile is a nonpartisan intervention in the Afghan War. The author is critical of the war from the left, presumably, while McChrystal himself is said to have voted for Obama in 2008. There are some unfavorable comments about the President, but nothing suggesting a repudiation of him or any break that would make it impossible for McChrystal to work for him. The article also includes comments from soldiers critical of McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy, which they feel is overcautious about the risk of civilian casualties, as well as criticism from other officials regarding the general's close relationship with President Karzai. Nevertheless, the President is said to be furious with the article's publication, perhaps on behalf of the hurt feelings of advisers, and perhaps because he, too, thinks anything critical of his administration benefits the Republican Party. But the story only reveals prematurely, at worst, the details of infighting that emerge in military and bureaucratic histories long after the fact. If McChrystal has done wrong in cooperating with the reporter (and he has apologized today for doing so), it may be because you object (for reasons of morale or otherwise) to the dirty laundry of history being hung out to dry before it's gone through the spin cycle.

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