NEWS BLOG (WSAU) – The debate over Afghanistan reached its boiling point late last year. Military commanders on the ground wanted a troop surge similar to the counter-terrorism initiative that turned the tide in Iraq. The political leaders at State and in the Obama Administration wanted a much smaller force with an emphasis on special ops, and a timetable for getting them out.
President Obama made his decision – a flawed one. Send 30,000 troops. Keep the restrictive rules of engagement. Continue to partner with the corrupt politicians in Afghanistan, and begin brining our soldiers home by July 2011. And after the President decided, he should have said: “I am the Commander In Chief. This is my decision. I set policy. The military carries it out. Anyone who has a problem with that should resign now.” That's supposed to be understood. Sometimes it's useful to remind everyone, particularly when no one is happy. That would have been important for General Stanley McChrystal to hear. That kind of directness from his boss would have cleared up any ambiguity when he went back to his staff. It also would have been useful guidance for Vice President Biden, Richard Holbrooke, Robert Gates, and Karl Eikenberry, who have continued their back-biting of the military leaders.
The President shouldn’t have to crack the whip when dealing with military commanders, but the current circumstance is the result of a bad compromise on an internal policy decision. The President didn’t really decide between the “go big” military strategy and the “go small” diplomatic policy. He split the difference between the two. As a result the policy debate never really ended. The result of that situation is the President’s problem.
People who’ve reported on General McChrystal say he is a master-tactician. We are told he is incapable of being anything but blunt. No sugar-coating of the truth. He speaks his mind, to a fault. (There is a story about McChrystal, reported in Time Magazine, that is revealing. McChrystal received an email from a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, frustrated by rules of engagement while on patrol at a forward operating base. McChrystal could have snapped the young soldier back for questioning orders and not following chain of command. Instead McChrystal traveled to the FOB to see the soldier in person, walked a patrol with him at night, and had dinner with the soldier’s unit to explain the policy and answer questions in person. That is an exceptional leader.)
But McChrystal also knows that a General follows the orders of the President. Those orders should not be questioned in private in front of subordinates, yet alone in public. And McChrystal either knows or now realizes that he puts Barack Obama in an impossible situation. If the President keeps him because he’s the best man for the job in Afghanistan, it appears that insubordination is being tolerated. If he sacks McChrystal, it sets back our military policy and forces a high-level change in the middle of a tight operational timetable. A General does not put his Commander-In-Chief in that box. He deserves to lose his job because of it.
By the way, General McChrystal and his staff are not wrong about the current administration. They’re wrong by not keeping their mouths shut.
Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau