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If the war had been going well, the McChrystal affair wouldn't have been so volatile.
BOSTON — To fire or not to fire? That was the question facing President Barack Obama just last week.
Would he better have suffered the slings and arrows of his outrageous general? Switching commanders in mid-surge is not something easily contemplated. But then again, if it needed to be done ‘twere better that Gen. Stanley McChrystal be replaced by his own boss, David Petraeus, to avoid serious disruption of what looks more and more to be a losing war. Petraeus has now been swiftly confirmed by congress as McChrystal's replacement.
No doubt McChrystal deserved to be fired. For a general to make the kind of remarks he did about his commander-in-chief is a firing offense.
Obama had bet the war backing McChrystal’s decision to surge. His vice president, Joe Biden, was against it. In retrospect Obama’s big mistake was to announce ahead of time that he would begin drawing down troops by July 2011. Of course there were caveats. He could postpone the withdrawal, or make it so minimal that it would not change the war effort. But by announcing it Obama lost the confidence of Afghanistan that he is in for the long haul, and of Pakistan which has its own interests to protect.
It is now clear that the July 2011 date demoralized his senior officers in Afghanistan as well.
It has long been evident that that Obama’s Afghan team was in disarray. The military deeply suspects the civilian efforts, especially in the form of Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke.
Holbrooke is not famous for getting along with people, and at the very least Obama needs to more clearly define Holbrooke’s role. When Holbrook sends emails to top generals — which McChrystal deeply resented — is it just advice? Or is Holbrooke firmly in the chain of command so that his emails can be considered orders?
Should Holbrooke be emailing McChrystal at all, or should he communicate with generals through the defense department chain of command?