Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gen. Petraeus Replaces Gen. McChrystal After McChrystal Sacked By White House

By now most pundits online have weighed in on the sacking of Gen. Stan McChrystal and President Obama's choice of Gen. David Petraeus as his replacement.

McChrystal was a special ops guy who was best at operating at the behest and discretion of Petraeus and his staff. The special ops is subordinate to the larger role of dealing with the entire theater of operations and all that entails. You need someone who can see the big picture and understands counterinsurgency strategy.

Independent journalist Michael Yon's postings and interactions with McChrystal and his staff showed that he wasn't up to the task of dealing with the entire theater. And Yon was calling McChrystal out as early as April. Yon thought he was in over his head. Clearly, he didn't get the politics.

Soldiers (or Generals) may excel in one role but do poorly in others. It happens. It's the bad judgment on McCrystal's part that irks me - that he enabled his underlings to openly question the chain of command like that. One simply doesn't question the civilian leadership even if you think that they're wrong. That is a recipe for dismissal and disaster. We've seen countless examples of generals bristling at civilian leadership and Presidents who sack generals who do not get the job done.

For instance, look at President Lincoln sacking general after general until he could find one who would lead and bring the South to defeat - Gen. Grant. Or, look at Gen. Patton and the way he bristled at civilian leadership following World War II. Or Gen. MacArthur's sacking following his dustup with President Truman over the prosecution of the war on the Korean peninsula.

So, even with McCrystal's problems, that doesn't absolve President Obama either. It also speaks poorly of Obama's choice in the first place. He judged his character and fitness poorly. The President also has enabled far more restrictive rules of engagement that puts US soldiers at risk and puts the onus on the troops on the ground. Those policies have to change, but to his credit, the President has picked the best person possible to replace McCrystal. That would be Gen. Petraeus.

The Obama Administration's policy in Afghanistan wasn't particularly good before, and it's currently in disarray. Hopefully Gen. Petraeus will find a way to fix things and get things back on to a positive track. Petraeus had a knack for knowing when and how to use the forces and politics at his disposal. After all, he was the one who figured out how to turn things around in Iraq via the surge of forces and gained the trust of his troops and the nation.

In the theater, having a general in charge who commands the kind of attention and respect that Petraeus does is invaluable. That will go a long way to improving matters with the Afghan govt - those warlords and local leaders who might lean towards US assistance against the Taliban, etc.

For those online who are siding with McChrystal because Obama sacked him makes little sense. McChrystal was wrong and was insubordinate and such actions cannot be tolerated in the chain of command. Obama had little choice but remove McChrystal. Doing anything else would have undermined the President's role as commander in chief. The Pentagon also couldn't and shouldn't tolerate that kind of insubordination in its ranks because it violates the chain of command and the fact that civilian leadership of the military is at the heart of the nation's national defense structure.

If McChrystal was truly at odds with the White House over the policy choices in Afghanistan, there were ways for him to make them known without being disrespectful of the President or airing the dirty laundry in a Rolling Stone interview.

If he thought the rules of engagement were too tight, he should have demanded changes. If he thought the timetables and political restrictions were too onerous, he should have demanded changes.

This, he did not do.

That doesn't mean that President Obama was right either. He was the one who made the judgment call to select McChrystal for the position despite some evidence going in that he wasn't right for the job. That reflects poorly on the President.

Correcting that error shows that the President is capable of learning from his mistakes.

Still, there is one thing (of many) that worries me.

When there are big problems with the military in Iraq or Afghanistan, all roads seemingly lead to one guy as the problem solver - Petraeus. That's not good for the long term. Is there no one else in the military upper echelons that can take on this job? One has to wonder if Gen. Petraeus is being stretched to thin in his assignments and duties.

We have to have more expertise and competence and faith in the military's upper echelons than just Gen. Petraeus. I'm glad we've got him where we do, but it is troubling that there aren't more who can shoulder that burden.

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