Dienstag, 22. Juni 2010

McChrystal Going? - It Isn't Just a Turf War

Stanley McChrystal might be leaving his post very soon, perhaps it is only a matter of hours right now. President Obama is simply going to have to fire him, as a matter of principle and to protect the authority of the Oval Office. Because, well, when you serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States you have a constituency of one. From watching Robert Gibbs' press briefing today one gets the sense that the White House is pretty pissed about the story (The Runaway General) published by the Rolling Stone. Thats saying something, because Gibbs is an uncharacteristically cautious Press Secretary. But this particular story is not the entire picture. McChrystal was strongly criticised for quite a while now; he has been accused of letting his troops fight with one hand tight behind their backs, most prominently by war correspondent Michael Yon, who lost his post as an embedded journalist in Afghanistan probably due to McChrystal's interference. And bloggers on military affairs were not exactly excited about McChrystal from the very start. Moreover, it seems that the initiative that could have come from the surge in troops ordered by President Obama has been lost to infite delays in Marjah and Kandahar.

The opening salvo is devastating enough, here is the first quote of the well-written article by Michael Hastings:
McChrystal is in Paris to keep the French, who have lost more than 40 soldiers in Afghanistan, from going all wobbly on him. 
"The dinner comes with the position, sir," says his chief of staff, Col. Charlie Flynn. 
McChrystal turns sharply in his chair.
"Hey, Charlie," he asks, "does this come with the position?"
McChrystal gives him the middle finger.

But what is far worse is not so much McChrystal's stance on the administration, it is the impression one gets of the administration itself. Here is another part of the article that leaves some questions about the process by which McChrystal was picked. Here, Hastings recalls the first meeting between President Obama and McChrystal in the Oval Office:
"It was a 10-minute photo op," says an adviser to McChrystal. "Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was. Here's the guy who's going to run his fucking war, but he didn't seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed."
It is more than that, however. Hastings makes pretty up to the mark observations. Following a description of McChrystal's staff getting drunk in Paris, he observes:
The assembled men may look and sound like a bunch of combat veterans letting off steam, but in fact this tight-knit group represents the most powerful force shaping U.S. policy in Afghanistan. While McChrystal and his men are in indisputable command of all military aspects of the war, there is no equivalent position on the diplomatic or political side. Instead, an assortment of administration players compete over the Afghan portfolio: U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Special Representative to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke, National Security Advisor Jim Jones and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not to mention 40 or so other coalition ambassadors and a host of talking heads who try to insert themselves into the mess, from John Kerry to John McCain. This diplomatic incoherence has effectively allowed McChrystal's team to call the shots and hampered efforts to build a stable and credible government in Afghanistan. "It jeopardizes the mission," says Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who supports McChrystal. "The military cannot by itself create governance reform."
This is not simply confusion, it is even more than a turf war. There apparently is a lack of civilian leadership in the Afghanistan-effort. There are two many chiefs on the civilian side, the result being that McChrystal is conducting a strategy that might work, but that does not have a civilian equivalent. Moreover, U.S. ambassador Eikenberry and McChrystal are at loggerheads and work to undermine the authority of the other. The more one reads of this and recalls all the blunders of the past twelve months, the more one wants to toss the entire band overboard (There is already some speculation on who might replace McChrystal).

There is an interesting historical precedent: Douglas MacArthur was a hero after his successful landing at Incheon in the Korean War. But after his initial success he was making mistakes of historic proportions, to say the least, and was famous most for his insubordination. There are some remarkable parallels between MacArthur and McChrystal, only that McChrystal might not have a military triumph such as MacArthur's at Incheon. Nonetheless, for the Obama administration this controversy over McChrystal's eventual departure might be an opportunity to drop the nonsense-deadline for the beginning of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Obama-administration will have to take the opportunity anyway: Obama has repeatedly stated that Afghanistan is "his" war, this now might be the time to get things right: a new leader for the war effort in Afghanistan would need time for his strategy to work, even if it resembles the current COIN-strategy (There were signs that the timeline will be eased since tuesday, even without the current controversy over McChrystal). By the way, when MacArthur was finally sacked by President Truman that move sealed his presidency and his numbers drooped to historic lows. For Obama, it will take a little more effort to avoid the same fate.

nota bene: Ink Spots has the best comment on why McChrystal needs to leave.

Keine Kommentare: