You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

EDITORIAL: McChrystal’s final agony

The general’s sacking highlights Obama’s Afghan incompetence

Question of the Day

Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

View results

Gen. Stanley McChrystal has ended his military career with a self-inflicted wound. He's the victim of a needless crisis in which President Obama seems more defensive than decisive.

Gen. McChrystal was a daring special operator and effective battlefield leader but seemed uncomfortable with some aspects of higher-level command. An informed source told The Washington Times that the political aspects of his job "distracted him from what he would rather be doing, which is killing the enemy."

The statements in the Rolling Stone magazine article that have generated the most buzz are the kind of griping one hears in any organization, but in the military and government, they are best not aired publicly. Gen. McChrystal's error in judgment was allowing strategic communications adviser Duncan Boothby, a reputed "New Media" guru, to give reporter Michael Hastings access to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander's inner circle. The most controversial parts of the story are statements made by anonymous McChrystal aides who were in Paris "getting hammered," according to Mr. Hastings. Someone should have been riding herd on this situation, especially since the men were out of theater blowing off steam. It's no surprise that Mr. Boothby was the first to lose his job because of the public-relations meltdown.

The flap was avoidable. A stronger president could have handled it differently. Gen. McChrystal did not personally make the most egregious comments quoted in the magazine. A commander in chief whose leadership was less in doubt could have made a quip about the article and moved on, but Mr. Obama is exceptionally image-conscious. So, rather than dismiss the article, he dramatically summoned Gen. McChrystal from the battlefront and took his resignation while sympathetic bloggers peddled analogies to Truman and Lincoln and their incorrigible generals that do not bear close scrutiny.

Mr. Obama's exercise in executive leadership aside, the greater narrative is how much of the Rolling Stone report rings true. The article described how the president looked "uncomfortable and intimidated" at a meeting with senior military leaders soon after he took office. He seemed disengaged at his first Oval Office meeting with Gen. McChrystal, months after he took command, and "clearly didn't know anything about [the general], who he was." This meeting was described as a "10 minute photo-op." The article discusses the wariness of anyone in a position of authority in the administration to discuss the concept of "victory" in Afghanistan. It details aspects of the counterproductive interagency competition among U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Special Representative to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke, National Security Adviser James L. Jones and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Mr. Obama chirps that he "won't tolerate division," but he has failed to unify his own Afghan team. The controversial comments from Gen. McChrystal's staff, while impolitic, are rooted in fact.

The article also conveyed the sense among the troops that things are going wrong on the ground in Afghanistan, that the drift at the top is somehow permeating down to their level. The troops are the ones who have lost the most in this sad episode. The United States has an important mission in Afghanistan - and this shake-up is a significant distraction, damaging to the coalition and harmful to the forces on the ground who would like to have a sense that their military and civilian leaders know what they are doing. Our warriors want to know their sacrifices aren't in vain, that their achievements won't be squandered. They can take heart that Gen. David H. Petraeus, with his proven leadership record, is assuming direct responsibility for the war, but whether he can overcome the O Force's dysfunction remains to be seen.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks
You Might Also Like
  • Maureen McDonnell looks on as her husband, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, made a statement on Tuesday after the couple was indicted on corruption charges. (associated press)

    PRUDEN: Where have the big-time grifters gone?

  • This photo taken Jan. 9, 2014,  shows New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gesturing as he answers a question during a news conference  at the Statehouse in Trenton.  Christie will propose extending the public school calendar and lengthening the school day in a speech he hopes will help him rebound from an apparent political payback scheme orchestrated by key aides. The early front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination will make a case Tuesday Jan. 14, 2014, that children who spend more time in school graduate better prepared academically, according to excerpts of his State of the State address obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    BRUCE: Bombastic arrogance or humble determination? Chris Christie’s choice

  • ** FILE ** Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

    PRUDEN: The question to haunt the West

  • Get Breaking Alerts