June 28, 2010 in Opinion

Outside Voices: McChrystal debacle reveals bigger problem

The Spokesman-Review
 
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Outside Voices is a weekly roundup of excerpts from recent editorials published in newspapers around the nation. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board of The Spokesman-Review.

Chicago Tribune, June 24: President Barack Obama said that firing Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal was necessary to ensure that his national security team was working together. “I welcome debate, but I won’t tolerate division,” he said.

So Obama has just sacked the architect of his Afghanistan strategy, the person who was most committed to that strategy.

We can assume that Obama is still committed to his strategy in Afghanistan. Can’t we?

Maybe not. This episode at least raises questions about the commitment of Obama’s other key advisers. What about Vice President Joe Biden and the rest of the foreign policy team? Are they on board? Isn’t that likely why McChrystal was prompted to talk out of school in such blunt fashion? Because they’re not?

More than six months after Obama ordered a surge of troops into Afghanistan, it appears that some in his leadership team are still skeptical of the boss’s decision.

Last fall, Obama took three months to decide on an Afghanistan strategy. He listened to different views. He picked McChrystal to pull it off. The general’s key insight: Allied forces can’t kill their way to victory in Afghanistan. They’ve got to help create security and clean government for Afghan’s citizens while battling the Taliban and building Afghanistan’s own security forces.

Obama made a decision on strategy last December. His foreign policy advisers need to get behind that strategy. Assess and reassess it – but listen intently to Gen. David Petraeus and help him to execute it. Or they need to find new jobs.

The president appears to have a problem that’s broader than one mouthy general.

Kansas City Star, June 24: McChrystal and his aides created an unworkable situation as they belittled Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and U.S. Special Representative to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke, among others involved in Afghanistan planning.

The importance in a democracy of civilian control of the military cannot be overstated, yet McChrystal seemed to place little value on that cherished principle.

The piece by Rolling Stone writer Michael Hastings – an example of the importance of detailed, on-the-ground reporting – revealed a general who was unsuited for the task from the day he arrived as head of coalition forces.


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