The Dismissal of General McChrystal: Checkmate

After qualifying as incompetent the civilians having authority over the U.S. military, General Stanley McChrystal was dismissed by President Barack Obama in less time than it takes to say it. To understand the importance of the action taken by the U.S. chief executive, remember that this is the first time in 60 years that the occupant of the White House has fired the chief of front line operations. Before Obama, Truman had sent home General Douglas MacArthur while the latter oversaw U.S. troops in Korea.

Obama justified his decision by arguing that the line of command is what it is: civilians have the ascendancy over the military. In a lengthy interview with Rolling Stone, McChrystal and members of his entourage cut to bits Vice President Joe Biden, the special envoy Richard Holbrooke in the region, and the entire national security team. In other words, virtually no civilian stood in their good graces. In short, this interview was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

We mention the straw here because General McChrystal was already being scrutinized by the White House for several weeks or even months before [the incident]. His appointment seven months ago as the head of the forces fighting the Taliban was accompanied by the addition of 30,000 soldiers to the troops already there. The presidency therefore expected a significant improvement in the situation. The opposite happened, however. The insurgents are now stronger, more resistant than they were before the advent of McChrystal. What else? His personality being what it is, this high-ranking officer was losing the worst possible thing: the confidence of his troops.

To turn this around, Obama has appointed General David Petraeus in his place, who is the very one who designed the strategy the Americans followed in Afghanistan, the very man who had known the success that we know in Iraq. The return of Petraeus to the Afghan theater has been well received by the military. All commentators agree, however, that the government must now do the cleaning elsewhere.

The truth is that, outside the purely military arena, everything is starting to fall apart. Responsible for the reconstruction of Iraq, Richard Holbrooke is struggling to accomplish his duties and his relations with President Hamid Karzai are abhorrent. The same holds true between the latter and the U.S. ambassador stationed in Kabul. In short, let’s say that tensions prevail over agreements between U.S. officials and Karzai.

In plain English, after McChrystal, Obama is sentenced to thoroughly review the nature of his relationship with his Afghan counterpart.

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