Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Obama should follow Lincoln's example

President Obama would be well within his prerogatives to fire General McChrystal. The general has shown magnificent bad judgment in allowing the Rolling Stone journalist to see his pique with the President and others in the administration and civilian leadership in Iraq. He has apparently fostered an environment where his aides felt comfortable laughing at the general's civilian critics to a reporter. That is not appropriate. There are good and historic reasons why we have civilian control of the military.

But the fighting in Afghanistan takes precedence. We are at a crucial juncture there. General McChrystal is the man who designed the strategy for Afghanistan and the man trusted by both the military in Afghanistan and the Afghan government.

Daniel Foster has proposed a good solution
for President Obama.
Refuse McChrystal's resignation. The general is a man of honor, and no idiot. There's a good chance he'll show up in Washington with a resignation letter in hand. President Obama could refuse it, and then go to the public and say something like, "our efforts in Afghanistan are too important to let an unfortunate lapse of judgment like this undermine them. So I told General McChrystal that he must finish his task, and that I would not accept his resignation at this time."

This might allow Obama to look like the bigger man while having it both ways. He'd avoid adding instability to his command structure at a crucial juncture in the war in Afghanistan, and avoid looking weak by not dismissing an insubordinate general.

The messaging would be: McChrystal knew he goofed up, and came to me with his gun and his badge. But this was my call, and I did what was best for the country.
The President also needs to address the underlying problems revealed in the article. And he needs to figure out if the country is best served by having an ambassador in Afghanistan, General Eikenberry who is at odds with the commander in the field. As Eliot Cohen writes today in his column writing that McChrystal must be fired,
First, it assembled a dysfunctional team composed of Gen. McChrystal, Amb. Karl Eikenberry and Amb. Richard Holbrooke—three able men who as anyone who knew them would predict could not work effectively together. Mr. Eikenberry was a former commander in Afghanistan, junior in rank to and less successful than Gen. McChrystal, and had very differing view of the conflict. Mr. Holbrooke, a bureaucratic force of nature, inserted an additional layer of command into a fraught set of relationships. As a stream of leaks has revealed, the staffs loathe each other.

If the President believes that McChrystal can still be the most effective military leader in Afghanistan, then take this step for the good of our efforts there.

Obama could quote his favorite president. When General McClellan rudely refused to meet with Lincoln when the president had come to visit him at the general's house, the president was advised to fire McClellan. He replied,
"All I want out of General McClellan is a victory, and if to hold his horse will bring it, I will gladly hold his horse."
I don't think that even holding McClellan's horse would have given him the fortitude to win against Robert E. Lee, but Obama could borrow the sentiment.


David said...

The book on McClellan is that he was a poor combat commander, but an excellent organizer and trainer of troops. He created the Army of the Potomac, but wasn't right right man to *use* it.

The art of executive management is very much about identifying the right person, at the right time, to do a particular job. How could Barack Obama, with his totally lack of management experience, possibly have developed the skills to do this?

Pat Patterson said...

Aside from the effect on the morale of the soldiers in Afghanistan keeping McChrystal seems a terrible idea for two reasons. One for violating provisions of the UCMJ in speaking publicly about his superior officer, the President.

And the other in that much of the criticism of McChrystal from within and without Afghanistan is his stated disagreement with the current strategy and his failure to come up with a tactical plan that addresses current problems.

And exactly how many Union soldiers died before Lincoln replaced that whole series of incompetents?

tfhr said...

Ultimately Obama makes the call on McChrystal but it should not end there. As Betsy put it so well, "The President also needs to address the underlying problems revealed in the article".

McChrystal is highly regarded but there is a serious problem within his command regarding the apparent lack of respect for the National Command Authority. That is the military component but the problems clearly extend to the diplomatic effort as well.

Amb. Eikenberry needs to go. He has acted to undercut McChrystal and needs to be removed immediately. Eikenberry's selection for the job raised a lot of eyebrows in the first place and this ends all doubt that he is unfit for the job. Holbrooke serves no useful purpose on the ground in either Afghanistan or Pakistan. His presence obviously is an impediment to McChrystal and also undercuts the Secretary of State. Given the apparent lack of coordinated effort between the diplomatic and military efforts in Afghanistan, it is better to remove Holbrooke from the mix and place the responsibility where it belongs - on Hillary Clinton's shoulders. She has been an absentee Secretary of State, by design, but she needs to actually do the job, despite being marginalized by her boss.

Back to correcting the military command climate: Did McChrystal's frustration with the White House result in his unprofessional behavior? During their conversation today, the President needs to ask.

I'm very curious about the reports I hear regarding the Rules of Engagement currently in place. McChrystal has made reducing civilian casualties a cornerstone in his campaign but there is ample evidence that this is being readily exploited by the Taliban. The ROE question needs to be resolved because it is certainly resulting in higher American casualties with no apparent return.

The next offensive, ostensibly scheduled for Kandahar, has been delayed. Why? I know there is more than one reason for this but are all being addressed?

With a delay such as this, why are we still talking about withdrawing troops next Summer? It's time to stop the electioneering that has resulted in a timetable that undercuts the military. It doesn't help diplomacy either when Afghans have to consider the possibility that any cooperation they offer now will be the first word of their Taliban death sentence next year.

This is all about so much more than disrespectful commentary in a lame magazine.

pumping-irony said...

I wish Obama would show up in Washington with his resignation letter in hand. It should not be refused.

Locomotive Breath said...

"The President also needs to address the underlying problems revealed in the article."

The underlying problem is that the President is an idiot who has no idea what he is doing. The Vice-President is worse. The Secretary of State is also out to lunch. If all three were to resign we might get somewhere.

tfhr said...


Ha! Good one.

Speaking of looks like GEN Petraeus has been tapped to take over the fight. Obama has to rely on the man Soro's people called "Betrayus"!

Makes me wonder if Hillary will be "suspending disbelief" or just getting ready to prepare to challenge Obama in 2012. Reid's gone already but apparently doesn't know it. I wonder if he'll be announcing that the "war is lost". Just because his reelection hopes are nil, I don't expect Reid will be any less the idiot for it.

Speaking of gone, I hope Holbrooke and Eikenberry are too. Hey, they can all get together for a foursome the next time Obama hits the links, which if the President sticks to the pattern, will be in about three or four days.

tfhr said...

One more thing - Obama has to do everything possible to support Petraeus. Anything less will send a signal to Iran and others that the President, already deemed to be weak, has lost the confidence of his military and does not seek to reestablish his role as Commander-in-Chief. Such an assessment on the behalf of the Iranians and others will be a prelude to disaster.

Watch for Russia to take this opportunity to exploit the weakened American President and if they do so by delivering Iran's promised S-300s, then Israel will react. Then what? We may even see evidence in the next few days as Iran prepares to take a stab at challenging the Gaza blockade.

Obama has been talking for more than 18 months and it has landed us at this juncture where doubt and weakness seem to prevail. Obama has to step up and show that he is ready to lead the nation in war. There is still time but he has to stop being merely "present" and start leading.

MarkD said...

McChrystal had to go, or Obama was a lame duck. Nobody exceeds my loathing of Obama, but this could not be allowed to pass; unless you want to end civilian control of the military.

I think we will hear a lot less of the Bush bashing from Obama. He owns this war and the strategy now.

tfhr said...


"He owns this war and the strategy now."

True. He also has to go to Bush's man to survive it. That's fine but he'd better be ready to defend it in the face of people that question that decision, just as he himself did, when Petraeus is ruthlessly and shamefully attacked by the left.

Obama would help Petraeus immediately if he signaled that the July 2011 troop draw-down was up for review and possible amendment, if not suspended outright, but I guess that will depend on who he fears most, the Taliban or Progressives.

Pat Patterson said...

I agree with tfhr that Russia might try to take advantage of the situation but it will all be a bluff. Russia's best division is stuck in Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. From what I can gather is that the military went into near catatonia when the casualty rates came in and they realized that their tactics were failing against a much smaller but better equipped highly motivate and US trained brigade that was within minutes of closing Russian routes into Georgia.

A year and a half ago the Russians initiated the revolt that put the current Kyrgyzstan government in place. It appears now that their voiced hands off approach has more to do with a lack of confidence in its military and the costs such an action might take.

For the US now the problem is will Pres Obama deal from a position of strengh, treat the Russians as equal or simply give them a free hand in dealin with the Iranians and as an after thought, the Uzbeks.

tfhr said...

Pat Patterson,

Don't forget about North Korea. They haven't been getting much love lately and this is the time of year they like to trot out one of their ICBM wannabes and point it somewhere.

After that blatant attack on the ROK Navy, I would be unwilling to write off anything.

Skay said...

Unfortunately for our country--the emperor has no clothes.

His closet is also empty.

tfhr said...


I don't know about that empty closet - there's got to be a few Chicago skeletons in there...and probably more.