Gen. McChrystal goes rogue, gets heard
You might have a tough time getting President Obama’s attention unless you are a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), a golf ball or Jennifer Lopez.
Over the past few weeks, he has deposited a huge carbon footprint by jetting to Copenhagen, only to have the IOC unceremoniously dis him. He has spent five hours each Sunday on the golf course. He also has entertained celebrities including J.Lo and Arnold Palmer at the White House, not to mention schmoozing Oprah Winfrey on their ill-fated Olympic trip.
Given these self-indulgent presidential distractions, the commanding general in Afghanistan, Stanley A. McChrystal, can be forgiven for publicly airing his strategic and troop-level preferences. Appearing on “60 Minutes” and addressing a prestigious London think tank apparently are the only ways Gen. McChrystal can get Mr. Obama’s attention. It was the general as matador, waving the red silk, hoping the bull would turn and notice him.
The bull certainly noticed. Since the general’s disclosure two weeks ago that he had spoken to the commander in chief only once in the nearly 100 days he has had the Afghanistan command, Mr. Obama has spoken to him twice: once by secure tele-link with others from the national-security team and again aboard an idle Air Force One in Denmark for a one-onone discussion. The flight to Copenhagen was seven hours. Mr. Obama’s meeting with Gen. McChrystal lasted 25 minutes.
Reports are that the conversation aboard the plane involved a candid exchange of views, which probably means Gen. McChrystal reiterated his request for up to 40,000 additional troops in order to accomplish the stated goal of destroying al Qaeda, turning back the Taliban and stabilizing Afghanistan, while Mr. Obama requested more time to think. Their chat also probably involved the president telling his commander to zip it.
During his London speech, Gen. McChrystal was brutally honest about the consequences of failing to adopt the surge strategy. The country, he said, will quickly become “Chaosistan.” He summarily rejected the strategy advocated by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. of reducing troop levels and relying primarily on drone missile strikes, saying, “The short answer is no,” when asked if he’d ever support it.
He also said, “Waiting does not prolong a favorable outcome. This effort will not remain winnable indefinitely, and nor will public support.”
The White House is said to be “furious” with the general for publicly posturing on military strategy, and some commentators have suggested his comments bordered on “insubordination.” Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, was more careful, saying, “Ideally, it’s best for military advice to come up through the chain of command.” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the generals should express their views “candidly but privately” to the president.
Mr. Gates and Gen. Jones are right about the formal process for the military to give advice and counsel to the civilian commander in chief. But when the president has prioritized other things while the shooting war is claiming more and more American lives, the general may have found it necessary to go through unconventional channels to get himself heard.
Gen. McChrystal also can be forgiven his impatience. Mr. Obama has had 10 months as president to get off the fence. He said repeatedly, including in January, March and June (when he installed Gen. McChrystal) that he had a “new strategy.” When the general realized there wasn’t a plan, he prepared one, which has been public for several weeks.
Gen. McChrystal cannot afford to waste time. He has nearly 68,000 Americans and a total of 100,000 NATO soldiers relying on him to give them a strategy that will win the war and enable them to come out of it alive.
He also knows that America’s enemies are watching this indecision and calculating that the president doesn’t have the stomach for a protracted fight. This weekend’s Taliban ambush that killed eight U.S. troops was no coincidence: The enemy sees our lack of resolve, and it’s filling the void with resolve of its own.
Iran is also witnessing the wavering American will and knows it only has to distract us with pretend “concessions” long enough to continue its clandestine nuclear program until it has a bomb. North Korea knows it can test one of its nuclear weapons or grab a couple of Americans on its border, and we’ll bend over backward offering accommodations. Russia knows all it has to do is huff and puff, and we’ll blow the Eastern European missile defense shield down.
Stalling on a troop request for Afghanistan while Americans are dying is a sure way to signal to our enemies that they can win, if only they hang in long enough. American strength is the best deterrent to violence and chaos. American weakness is a guarantor of those things.
The president has been busy chasing nationalized health care, an Olympic dream and his Titleist golf balls. Gen. McChrystal had no choice but to go public to get him focused on the realities of the battlefield and the dangerous world in which he, his soldiers and the rest of us live. The general’s responsibility is to keep us safe from attack. It‘s a shame he had to remind Mr. Obama that it’s the president’s responsibility as well.
Monica Crowley is a nationally syndicated radio host, a panelist on “The McLaughlin Group” and a Fox News contributor.