Wednesday, June 23, 2010

McChrystal's Gone, But Not What He Said

Instead of "Rolling Stone" it should be "Rolling Head."

Of all the victims involved with today's unfortunate implosion of General Stanley McChrystal, hopefully truth can emerge relatively unscathed from the aftermath.

After all, nobody has yet to deny that any of the consternation, bickering, personality wars, and frustrations that McChrystal and his staff exposed to Rolling Stone – of all magazines – aren’t valid issues in the Afghanistan theater of operations. Or that Joe Biden is incompetent, that other politicians of both Democratic and Republican stripe haven’t made peace all the more elusive, and that our Commander in Chief may be running a losing battle over ideologies within his own administration.

Read the article carefully, and you’ll note that only one super-star politician actually wins on the PR front, and what a surprise it is: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Who’d have thought Bill’s better half could muster such warmth and admiration from a hardened core of army bigshots? Maybe it just says something about how poorly McChrystal and his aides have been treated by others in Obama’s cabinet. Conservatives shouldn’t forget, however, that Clinton is a senator from New York State, home to Ground Zero, and Afghanistan has been ground-zero for the fight against the Taliban. Her support of America’s efforts there may be pragmatism over partisanship, but it still proves that wonders never cease.

What comes as no surprise is the McChrystal camp’s loathing of Vice President Joe Biden. I mean, who can disagree with the Rolling Stone article? Everybody knows that Biden only happens to be vice president through an act of political contrivance on President Barak Obama’s part. To win the presidency, Obama knew he needed a white guy on his ticket, and Biden – despite already maligning his then-opponent in the primaries – genuflected the lowest when offered the chance to get inside the Executive Branch. Even at Obama’s press conference this afternoon, who stood the closest to him, as if he was afraid he might get cropped out of a photo? Yup – there was Biden, practically perched on Obama’s shoulder, his bald head reflected in the French doors behind him.

But the real truth that Obama and Biden may be hoping the American public ignores deals with nitty-gritty realities that dumping McChrystal for General David Petraeus itself won’t fix. Getting rid of the messenger doesn’t get rid of the message. And that message seems pretty stark: Obama’s plan has yet to get buy-in from everybody in his administration, petty personality squabbles imperil a fragile working relationship with the Afghans, and rapidly-demoralizing troops in that dust-bowl of a quagmire need somebody to listen to their tales from the front – tales that don’t jive with the sunny scenarios civilian military analysts are splicing together back in their air-conditioned bunkers at the Pentagon.

Not that we’re losing the war in Afghanistan. Good grief – there’s no way of knowing who’s ahead and who’s behind over there. The fact that we haven’t yet been hounded out of the country like the Russians were probably means we’re doing better than the naysayers want to think. And even top Afghan officials, including its president, wanted McChrystal to stay in command, meaning they thought he was the best choice to make progress there.

And what about Rolling Stone itself? Why kind of chutzpah does it take for a left-of-center magazine to propose a spread about the commander in Afghanistan? This wasn’t a patriotic piece about Patton leading the troops into battle, and the Rolling Stone reporters certainly weren’t going to turn their tape recorders off when McChrystal or his aides had to vent. Even if the reporters knew their piece would be controversial, did they intentionally abdicate any notion about what might have been in the national interest? Once they saw how the interviews were going, couldn’t they have pulled the plug and decided they weren’t going to be an accessory to a shake-up at the top of the Afghanistan command? Is publicity that important to Rolling Stone? Shame on them.

Ultimately, though, McChrystal takes the blame for ever granting an interview to any non-military magazine. What was he thinking? Giving such off-the-cuff remarks and letting his staff do the same? And then firing two army staffers as fall guys? In the end, it doesn’t matter if Obama and his cabinet are completely inept; he’s still the Commander in Chief, and we’re a nation at war. While McChrystal’s insubordination probably hasn’t significantly damaged the drive for peace in Afghanistan, it needed to be nipped in the bud before it was allowed to fester.

And who knows – if the Obama administration actually takes McChrystal’s perceptions to heart, and makes substantial improvements to how it’s currently executing its policy and personnel, then maybe troop morale can increase and quantifiable gains can be seen.

Of course, if cabinet in-fighting was one of the banes of McChrystal’s existence, the remarkably good press Clinton is getting out of this article won’t help much.

How funny to realize that she’s the only one coming out of this mess better than ever.

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