In the fallout of Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his staff's impolitic comments published in a magazine article, President Barack Obama today accepted the general's resignation. He announced his decision from the White House Rose Garden as the media anticipated the general would be fired. The president said:
"... war is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general, or a president. And as difficult as it is to lose General McChrystal, I believe that it is the right decision for our national security.
... The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system. And it erodes the trust that’s necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.
Obama announced Gen. David Petraeus will replace McChrystal, pending results of confirmation hearings, which will be Tuesday, reports Stars and Stripes. Gen. Petraeus, who was the head of the United States Central Command, remained silent on McChyrstal's widely-discussed remarks.
McChrystal's statement in response to the president's announcement is available on Scribd:
This morning the President accepted my resignation as Commander of U.S. and NATO Coalition Forces in Afghanistan. I strongly support the President’s strategy in Afghanistan and am deeply committed to our coalition forces, our partner nations, and the Afghan people. It was out of respect for this commitment -- and a desire to see the mission succeed -- that I tendered my resignation. It has been my privilege and honor to lead our nation’s finest.
The Rolling Stone article by Michael Hastings that caused Obama to yank McChrystal from his post in Afghanistan is entitled "The Runaway General." It exploded on the Net and in mainstream media Monday and will be available on newstands June 25. Hastings takes readers behind the scenes with the general's senior aides in the Afghanistan War, and the magazine sums the lengthy piece up:
Stanley McChrystal, Obama's top commander in Afghanistan, has seized control of the war by never taking his eye off the real enemy: those whimps in the White House.
In it, one of McChrystal's aides called the general's meeting with Obama early in his presidency after the general was assigned as commander in Afghanistan a "photo op," and he said the president didn't know anything about McChrystal. Other sources, said Hastings, described the general's impression of Obama in an earlier briefing as "'intimidated' by the roomful of military brass."
McChrystal and his staff disrespected Vice President Joe Biden:
"Are you asking about Vice President Biden?" McChrystal says with a laugh. "Who's that?"
"Biden?" suggests a top adviser. "Did you say: Bite Me?"
As the article continues, it's clear disrespect from "Team McChrystal" extends to retired four-star general and veteran of the Cold War Jim Jones. An aide calls him "a 'clown' who remains "stuck in 1985." More insults flow as an aide shares how McChrystal likens Richard Holbrooke, a diplomat and special representative assigned to Afghanistan and Pakistan, "a wounded animal," who is "dangerous" because his job's in jeopardy.
Neither are Senators John McCain and John Kerry spared. Hastings writes, "Team McChrystal likes to talk shit about many of Obama's top people on the diplomatic side," and he says the only person not skewered is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton because she said the administration should give McChyrstal whatever he wants.
That's the big red flag waving in this article that marks the chasm between the military and diplomacy camps on what to do about Afghanistan. The greater concern is that this division undermines civilian chain of command and the morale of U.S. troops. Hence, it was at this point in addressing the McChrystal dismissal that the president delivered his strongest statements:
I welcome debate among my team, but I won’t tolerate division. All of us have personal interests; all of us have opinions. Our politics often fuels conflict, but we have to renew our sense of common purpose and meet our responsibilities to one another, and to our troops who are in harm’s way, and to our country.
We need to remember what this is all about. Our nation is at war. We face a very tough fight in Afghanistan. But Americans don’t flinch in the face of difficult truths or difficult tasks. We persist and we persevere. We will not tolerate a safe haven for terrorists who want to destroy Afghan security from within, and launch attacks against innocent men, women, and children in our country and around the world.
So make no mistake: We have a clear goal. We are going to break the Taliban’s momentum. We are going to build Afghan capacity. We are going to relentlessly apply pressure on al Qaeda and its leadership, strengthening the ability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to do the same.
That’s the strategy that we agreed to last fall; that is the policy that we are carrying out, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
According to blogs and mainstream media sources, as well as the Rolling Stone article, Obama is fighting this war based on a campaign promise. Furthermore, he's been sucked into using a military strategy he's never wholeheartedly supported, counterinsurgency also called COIN. Counterinsurgency is the strategy Petraeus used in Iraq, and it is the strategy McChrystal championed for Afghanistan. Obama's downfall, say analysts, may be that Afghanistan looks more like his Viet Nam each day.
Speculation on the General's Loose Lips
The Rolling Stone article tells readers that mouthing off and having Obama yank his chain is not new for McChrystal:
Last fall, during the question-and-answer session following a speech he gave in London, McChrystal dismissed the counterterrorism strategy being advocated by Vice President Joe Biden as "shortsighted," saying it would lead to a state of "Chaos-istan." The remarks earned him a smackdown from the president himself, who summoned the general to a terse private meeting aboard Air Force One. The message to McChrystal seemed clear: Shut the fuck up, and keep a lower profile.
The article also tells us that Obama, on the advice of the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "fired Gen. David McKiernan – then the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan" and then mentions the firing of Gen. Douglass MacArthur who President Harry Truman fired during the Korean War. Truman dismissed MacArthur because the popular general criticized his policy.
Before today's news, an editorial at the L.A. Times said the president should just slap McChrystal's wrist and send him back to Afgahistan because McChrystal is valuable and his remarks were not as bad as MacArthur's comments, says the editorial. But given that the Rolling Stone article itself reveals McChrystal's already had a wrist slapping, what else could Obama do that would not make him look like a weak Commander in Chief?
In an interview with Morning Joe on MSNBC, Eric Bates, executive editor of Rolling Stone, said that McChrystal knew exactly what he was saying and his staff was saying. The general and his staff knew what was on the record and off, and the magazine honored those boundaries, having received open access to McChrystal and his men, according to Bates.
Hastings kept in touch with the editor, and it sounds like Rolling Stone knew it was serving up a a hot course for dismissal with the Hasting's piece. The mention of MacArthur in the article itself seems more a foreshadowing of the president accepting McChrystal's resignation today as an astute writer perceived the significance of his scoop instead of simply a historical tidbit. The group discussing the story on Morning Joe speculates that perhaps McChrystal knew he had thrown down the proverbial gauntlet because he was tired and wanted out of an "unwinnable" war.
Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson marveled at McChrystal's naiveté and said:
But, you know, "Rolling Stone" has already made its reputation for practically blowing Goldman Sachs apart in the last year. So, you don't talk to "Rolling Stone" expecting a little bland piece about yourself. This is going to be a very calculated decision on McChrystal's part.
In the segment, however, Bates says he does not think the general and his staff's quips of insubordination that could lead to dismissal were intentional. He says over the course of the show's conversation:
Well, we got a really unprecedented access with him. We spent -- we reported this story over the course of several months. We were with him on a trip in Europe that wound up getting extended because of the volcano in Iceland. So, our reporter was kind of trapped with him for about two weeks in Paris and traveling from Paris to Berlin. They couldn't fly, so they had to take a bus. So, we really spent a lot of time with him ...
I have to say, in the course of this story, I don't think we got the sense that it was intentional, either. I think we got a look behind the curtain. These are men at war, talking amongst themselves in that locker-room way. McChrystal is known for being very, very frank. It's one of the most appealing traits. Whether he used good judgment in saying this kind stuff in front of a reporter is another question.
Last year, following the release of the memo asking for 40,000 troops, McChrystal gave an inteview to CBS 60 Minutes where he spoke frankly about the war. On MSNBC, Joe Scarborough said he thought McChrystal showed poor judgement in some of his answers then as well. He thinks the general wasn't discreet enough about his communication or lack of communication with the president.
Writer's Side Note: The Rolling Stone article refers to Afghanistan as a poor nation. Is it still poor now that America's confirmed its vast mineral deposits?
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