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Obama's Lose-Lose Decision

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With General Stanley McChrystal having met privately with both Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and President Barack Obama today, the controversy over derogatory remarks he and his staff made about key members of the Obama administration, and the President himself, in Rolling Stone appears to be headed for resolution one way or another. While the story calls into question the wisdom and media savviness McChrystal and his staff, it leaves Obama in a decidedly lose-lose situation.

Lobbying for a troop increase publicly following the leak of his formal request last Fall, McChrystal placed Obama in the uncomfortable position of choosing between the recommendation of the man he personally selected to prosecute and ultimately conclude the war in Afghanistan and his political base that clamored for an end to America’s seemingly fruitless and open-ended occupation of Hell’s half acre. While some charitably characterized McChrystal as merely being a step ahead of Obama’s ultimate decision, others saw a political gambit that undermined the principal of civilian control of the military and a challenge to the President’s national command authority.

In light of the remarks covered in the Rolling Stone piece, the position of those who believe the latter is significantly strengthened by what appears to be a culture of open contempt of the administration and key members of the National Security Council among McChrystal’s command staff.

That being the case, what are the President’s options at this conjuncture?

The involuntary reflex response, and preferred choice of many of the President’s supporters, is to fire McChrystal outright. While doing so may be viscerally satisfying, the downside is the creation of a leadership vacuum in the field immediately prior to what is billed as another critical phase in the ongoing counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan – a campaign designed by McChrystal himself. In addition to this, the permanent replacement for McChrystal would in all likelihood take the reins of command with less than a year on the clock till the hard withdrawal date Obama promised when announcing McChrystal’s surge last December. One wonders if a new country commander can both continue to press McChrystal’s grand strategic vision while simultaneously preparing the ground for an impending massive troop draw-down.

Accordingly, Obama has what may be referred to as the “H2″ option. Under “H2″, McChrystal would retain his command after enduring a hefty bit of public humiliation, topped off with a heaping helping of humble pie. Following the requisite mea culpa, the general would return to Hell’s half acre chastened for the remainder of what in all likelihood will be his final command.

In contrast to this, there are reports that McChrystal is prepared to offer his resignation today. While this is certainly rooted in a sense of honor, were Obama to accept it it would further erode his credibility – the decision must be his and his alone. While tension between the career military and the civilian political leadership has been an historically reoccurring fact of life, power is constitutionally vested in and decisions are ultimately the responsibility of the President and his designee, the Secretary of Defense. In firing McChrystal and refusing to accept his resignation, Obama publicly reasserts the principal of civilian control of the military.

Beyond the realm of constitutional principals, there is also the very real world concern of presidential perception and America’s national security. Currently, though personally popular among adoring throngs the planet over, there is considerable doubt among his peers – as well as America’s antagonists – about Obama’s resolve. Indeed, the perception of Obama among world leaders belies the image one normally associates with a veteran of the rough and tumble, cut-throat Chicago political scene. To retain McChrystal with little more than a hearty serving of humble pie as his punishment would reinforce the perception of an irresolute and weak-willed president. The implications for America’s national security are potentially significant as her adversaries and antagonists are emboldened and increasingly believe they can challenge or disregard her with impunity.

Thus, McChrystal has forced Obama into a position where he must prove to the military and the world that in addition to speaking softly, he can wield Teddy Roosevelt’s proverbial big stick. Ironic that the open wound of George Bush’s Afghanistan strategy has forced his successor to choose between his self-styled image as “the Thinker” and that of folksy-but-resolute “Decider” of his predecessor.

Stay tuned faithful readers as General McChrystal discovers the answer to the Clash’s 80′s lament – should I stay or should I go now? “If I go there will be trouble, if I stay there will be double”, indeed.
 

Jetboogieman

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Really well written. Cheers mate. Turns out Obama did fire him. Any opinion of it now that it's done?
 
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Thank you for the kind words, Jet. They're greatly and sincerely appreciated.

Ultimately, McChrystal left Obama no choice.

It's an abrupt and disappointing end to what appears to be an otherwise exemplary military career. I do, though, believe there are a number of lessons that can be gleaned from this unfortunate turn of events.

1) Once a star appears on your shoulders, everything you do and say will be subjected to the harsh light of bureaucratic and public scrutiny. That scrutiny exponentially increases with each additional star. This multiplies astronomically when one becomes the field commander of a lingering, multi-year war that many regard as a hopeless, festering wound. Act accordingly, 24/7/365.

2) Soldiers are human, too. Off-duty, they drink, use course language, act sophomoric and immature, have issues with authority, believe they're smarter than their superiors, are disdainful of self-important politicians, have strong political views and share them with their peers and friends in discussions that often include the aforementioned course language.

3) The President's perception problem permeates the military as thoroughly as it does the international arena.

4) Loose lips sink ships. And decades-long military careers. Take the Go-Go's admonition to heart and keep your lips sealed.

5) Unlike Dr. Hook, generals should never, ever long to appear on the cover of the Rolling Stone.
 
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ptif219

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McChrystal left Obama no choice.

It's an abrupt and disappointing end to what appears to be an otherwise exemplary military career. I do, thought, believe there are a number of lessons that can be gleaned from this unfortunate turn of events.

1) Once a star appears on your shoulders, everything you do and say will be subjected to the harsh light of bureaucratic and public scrutiny. That scrutiny exponentially increases with each additional star. This multiplies astronomically when one becomes the field commander of a lingering, multi-year war. Act accordingly, 24/7/365.

2) Soldiers are human, too. Off-duty, they drink, use course language, act sophomoric and immature, have issues with authority, believe they're smarter than their superiors, are disdainful of self-important politicians, have strong political views and share them with their peers and friends in discussions that often include the aforementioned course language.

3) The President's perception problem permeates the military as thoroughly as it does the international arena.

4) Loose lips sink ships. And decades-long military careers. Take the Go-Go's admonition to heart and keep your lips sealed.

5) Unlike Dr. Hook, generals should never, ever long to appear on the cover of the Rolling Stone.
No comment on the hypocrisy of the dems including Obama that condemened Petraeus and the surge in Iraq now loving him.
 

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I think the best possible solution was found. McChrystal resigned, and Patreus was put in command. Patraeus has huge credibility with the troops who no doubt were concerned about the loss of McChrystal leading to potential leadership issues; primarily getting a green noob in there. Patraeus' standing was obviously bolstered by the undeserved pummeling he took before Congress last year. Obama got lucky this time, but he's an incompetent ass, and this situation proves it. The military salutes the office, but disrespects the man.
 
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I think that if one digs a bit deeper into the mentality that is revealed in McChrystal's and his staffs' comments you will find that while they salute the office of the presidency, they are disdainful of the current occupant as Constitutionalist so aptly points out. Furthermore, I believe that disconnect is far more widespread and endemic than many would otherwise like to think.

There's also the fact that over the course of the last three administrations, neither the President nor the Vice President had an significant military experience.

Clinton's efforts to avoid Vietnam are well-documented, while Bush 43's service in the Louisiana Air National Guard reserves was negligible. Meanwhile, Obama is the first Generation X president and was a pre-teen and teenager during the height of the Vietnam War.

While Gore served two years in the Army from '69-'71, he was "in the rear with the gear". Though Cheney served as Bush 41's Secretary of Defense he, like Joe Biden, received multiple deferments that allowed him to avoid Vietnam.

Accordingly, Pappy Bush is both the last combat veteran president and vice president. That being the case, we've now gone a generation without either a president or vice president that has served their country in combat. That impacts the dynamics between the Pentagon and the White House on multiple levels.

Reinforcing this disconnect and tension is the fact that the last three presidents, including Obama, all defeated opponents who were military veterans. Granted Bush 43 had served in the LANG reserves, but Gore was active Army and did a tour in Vietnam.

Apparently the American electorate values military experience to a lesser degree than it previously did. My suspicion is that trend will continue unless America is confronted by a clear and present danger that rises to the level of an existential threat.

That being the case, the tension between the military and the civilian national command authority will likely remain the status quo for the foreseeable future.
 
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