President Obama rids himself of a particularly clueless general, but his fundamental problem remains. The clueless general is Stanley A. McChrystal. His fundamental problem is himself.
The president and the general were doomed from the beginning to part ways. The general understood the war and thought he knew how to win it, and the president thinks it's enough to give the effort a lick and a promise, say some nice and inoffensive things about soldiers and sacrifice, and get out. He's got a community on his far left to organize.
Mr. Obama told us - and more important, the foe in Afghanistan - all anyone needs to know in his famous speech at West Point when he promised to get the troops out by next summer - not necessarily winning by next summer, but quitting by next summer. Good old Joe Biden, the vice president, added emphasis to the president's pledge when he told a magazine interviewer that "in July 2011, you're going to see a whole lot of people moving out [of Afghanistan], bet on it."
No one can argue with the president's sacking of the general; the McChrystal affront was so audacious and so contemptuous that it's tempting to believe barracks scuttlebutt that it was calculated to force the president's hand, and ignite a debate over what's wrong in Afghanistan and what to do about it. If Mr. Obama has been looking for someone's mule to kick, he found the right mule.
The McChrystal incident is a useful reminder to one and all that civilians run the military. The smart generals understand this, and understand the peril in mixing politics and strategy. We can sympathize with the general's frustration and even agree with some of the things he told Rolling Stone, and still agree that the president did what he had to do. Gen. George C. Marshall, the architect of strategy in World War II, was so determined not to show partisanship that he never laughed at President Roosevelt's jokes, lest he show partisan bias. (Since FDR was not much of a stand-up comic, keeping a straight face in White House meetings was not difficult).
Mr. Obama is said to have shown a bit of temper with war planners after he dismissed the general, telling them sharply that the mission in Afghanistan is critical and he will brook no "division" in the ranks, here or there. But there is division already, and it was put there by the president, who, like the general, can't keep his aides and orderlies marching in formation. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates contradicted good old Joe's echo of the president about next summer's withdrawal, insisting that nothing has been decided and the president's deadline is only "a starting point."
The president obviously still thinks a few more speeches can spike the guns of war. Mr. Obama has already banished "terrorism" from the world, or at least that naughty word, replacing it with something more or less benign that he calls "man-made disasters." Even as he was calling the general home to be cashiered, one of his special envoys was busy making nice with the authors of "man-made disasters." Rashad Hussain, the special envoy to the Organization for the Islamic Conference, a Saudi front financed and led to "protect" Jerusalem from the Israelis, says the president should henceforth be called the "Educator-in-Chief on Islam." The president's White House dinners, celebrating Ramadan and other Islamic holidays, demonstrate that Islam is now as American as apple pie (or even a BLT on toast, or a plate of ham and eggs).
Mr. Hussain praised the president for sending Valerie Jarrett, a senior aide, to a session of the shady Islamic Society of North America. He told the Woodrow Wilson International Institute for Scholars in Washington that the United States will support an Islamic effort in the United Nations to "criminalize defamation of religion," i.e., "criticism" of Muslim violations of human rights. "The [Organization for the Islamic Conference] and the Obama administration will work together in the U.N. on the issue of defamation of religion, especially in Europe," he said. Since the U.N. is not notably concerned with criticism of Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or Whirling Dervishes, it's clear enough where the U.N. means for this to go.
The week's events demonstrate that President Obama either doesn't understand his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the nature of radical Islam vs. the West, or all of the above. Sacking a general doesn't change any of that.
- Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
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