“The Runaway General”: The interview that earned NATO’s Afghanistan commander a “please explain” [update 5]
What does a general do who’s in charge of a campaign that has its hands tied politically? If that general is Stanley McChrystal, battling regrouped Al Qaeda, Taliban and allied Islamist fighters across the mediaeval landscape of Afghanistan while the politicians fiddle, you give an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, PJ O’Rourke’s former gig, criticising your Commander-in-Chief—an interview published with the sub-heading.:
It’s earned him a presidential smackdown and a “please explain” meeting with the POTUS—the last of which occurred when he dismissed the counterterrorism strategy being advocated by Vice President Joe Biden as "shortsighted," saying it would lead to a state of "Chaos-istan."
This time it’s more serious. That was just an answer to one question. This time he’s answered dozens--none of them in a way that’s pleased his boss. And this is a war that needs plenty of questions answered—a war that now appears to have no aim outside appeasement of the Taliban, and has only got worse since the addition of 30,000 troops in December.
Three obvious reasons why this is so [summarises Jack Kelly at ToThePoint] are the deadline the president set for next year to begin
withdrawal of U.S. troops; ridiculous rules
of engagement [set by McChrystal], and the poisonous relationship Mr.
Obama has established with Afghan President
Read the interview online at Rolling Stone. It gives more insight into the war and its White-House related problems than a hundred New York Times editorials, or a hundred-thousand “briefings” by Rahm Emanuel.
UPDATE 10:33am: Gen. Stanley McChrystal has "offered to resign," according to a Twitter post from Time magazine's Joe Klein. Note: Not resigned, but offered to resign. The only resignation so far is from McChrystal’s media officer who set up the Rolling Stone profile. But note also that McChrystal is reported to have seen and approved the profile before it went to press.
UPDATE 10:42pm: Freelance war correspondent Michael Yon, who is always worth listening to and famously criticised McChrystal’s generalship back in April, is picking McChrystal’s resignation to be accepted and Marine General James Mattis to be appointed (Tom Ricks’s thoughts on this are similar to my own, says Yon at his Facebook page). Meanwhile “Michael Yon's Criticism of McChrystal Deemed Prophetic,” says Kay B. Day at The US Report. With one addition, Her conclusion on the Afghanistan campaign is sound:
I'd also say we need to either face the brutal reality of war and [give] our men and women [a clear goal and let them] fight, or we should bring them home now. We have to admit at some point you can't earn someone else's freedom. They have to do that for themselves and they will do it only if they want it.”
UPDATE 3: Some background here on Yon from early June, covering his disagreements with McChrystal, his criticisms of the Afghan campaign, and why you should take them seriously. Yon’s quoted comments are on target and, with talk of Mattis’ appointment, both prescient and hopeful:
Yon believes the war can still be won, but that a change of command is in order. At this level of warfare, he says, ‘McChrystal is like a man who has strapped on ice skates for the first time. He might be a great athlete, but he's learning to skate during the Olympics.’ Yon adds that publicly denouncing the commanding general of a war is not an easy thing for him to do, especially considering it means crossing swords with General Petraeus and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, two men he greatly admires.
“Indeed, if anyone can turn this war around, Yon believes it is General Petraeus. He concedes such a return to the battlefield is unlikely, and suggests another general whose name fewer people have heard. "General James Mattis from the Marines. I get a good feeling about Mattis but I don't know. General Petraeus is a known entity and he is solid gold.’
“Short of that, Yon's outlook is bleak. ‘Even if the President commits more forces [next year], they will not be effective until 2012. By that time, more allies likely will have peeled off, requiring us to commit even more forces to cover down. We lost crucial time in building the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army and so forth, and today we are paying the price. This is not to mention that the Afghan government is sorry at best and criminal at worst.’
He concludes, ‘The trajectory of this war leaves a sick feeling in my stomach. It's as if I've watched a space shuttle liftoff while sitting at launch control, with full knowledge that it will abort to the Indian Ocean. We are trying to reach orbit with insufficient fuel.’"
UPDATE 4: The headline in The Australian says it all: “Petraeus steps up as Obama sacks General Stanley McChrystal over Rolling Stone interview”:
GENERAL David Petraeus, who saved a failing US mission in Iraq, has been recruited to rescue a faltering war in Afghanistan.
President Barack Obama named Petraeus, 57, to be the US commander in Afghanistan after sacking General Stanley McChrystal over an explosive magazine profile in which he and his aides belittled civilian leaders.
The move means Petraeus relinquishes command of all US forces in the Middle East to take over a military campaign that has been stymied by a resilient Taliban foe, rising casualties and deep divisions within the administration…
It is the second time Petraeus has been called on to turn around the country's fortunes in an unpopular war.
UPDATE 5: Oddly, Rachel Maddow gets it right for all the wrong reasons:
By accepting Gen. Stanley McChrystal's resignation, President Obama solved one problem: the rancor within his security team… We're still left with the biggest problem: America's strategy of counterinsurgency in Afghanistan.
A strategy that leaves the war without a real goal, and without a means to achieve it.