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Has it occurred to President Barack Obama that Gen. Stanley McChrystal might actually have wanted to be fired -- and thus rescued from the current March of Folly in Afghanistan, a mess much of his own making?
McChrystal leaves behind a long trail of broken promises and unfulfilled expectations. For example, there is no real security, at least during the night, in the area of Marja, which McChrystal devoted enormous resources to pacify this spring. Remember his boast that he would then bring to Marja a "government-in-a-box" and thereby offer an object lesson regarding what was in store for those pesky Taliban in Kandahar, Afghanistan's second largest city?
It is now clear that there will be no offensive against Kandahar anytime soon. For the 500,000 people in Kandahar, this is surely a good thing, but it is a huge embarrassment for McChrystal and his former boss, now his successor, the never nonplussed Gen. David Petraeus.
When McChrystal and his undisciplined senior aides let aRolling Stonereporter know what they really thought of the "intimidated" Obama and most of his national security team, Obama and his advisers took the bait.
They let McChrystal fold his tent in the night and steal silently away from the disaster he leaves behind. White House advisers then brainstormed the idea of replacing McChrystal in Kabul with the straight-arrow Petraeus whose is known for running a tight command.Done!
Master Political Stroke?
Since the announcement Wednesday, the Stanley-out/David-in move has been hailed by Official Washington as a political masterstroke.We shall see.There is, to be sure, some short-term cosmetic cleverness.In my view, however, future pitfalls and pratfalls are likely to far outweigh any political points Obama might score in the near term.
The conventional wisdom holds that Petraeus is the military genius who can still prevail in Afghanistan.But by now even the densest of Obama's advisers know there will be no prevailing.They see a silver lining, though, in the fact that the choice of Petraeus as successor to McChrystal dumps into Petraeus's lap a mess that he also helped create, along with McChrystal and Obama (not to mention, Bush, Cheney, et al).
Petraeus is given a mission that virtually everyone but Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham realizes is an impossible assignment. But it gets Petraeus out of the country and--the Obama folks hope--out of contention for the 2012 Republican nomination. In the view of the White House, Petraeus is now in direct charge of the mess in Afghanistan and will find it difficult to pin primary responsibility on Obama.This seems to me largely wishful thinking.
It is far too soon to count Petraeus out.He is politically astute, has powerful friends in Washington, and in testifying to Congress, he has collapsed only once, as far as we know.I believe Petraeus commands wider respect than Obama does--and surely more credibility and respect than the President' national security adviser, James Jones, branded a "clown" by one of McChrystal's aides.
The McChrystal circle has had it in for Jones because he pushed back against assertions by McChrystal and others last fall that the United States needed a major infusion of troops in Afghanistan.Dialing back fears stoked by McChrystal (and seriously undercutting the rationale for escalation), Jones chose to tell the press this on October 4:
"I don't foresee the return of the Taliban.Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling " The al-Qaeda presence is very diminished.The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies."
Does it sound to you as if Jones may have been hinting that the U.S. need not send 30,000 more troops to face less than 100 al-Qaeda and the Taliban, whose numbers remain one of the deepest mysteries of the conflict?I am not suggesting that estimates on the strength of Taliban forces are being deliberately hidden from us, although this may be so.What I am suggesting is actually worse: I believe it more likely that no intelligence unit has yet been assigned the task of toting up the numbers.This would not be the first time; a considered look at the Viet Cong order of battle was put off until well into the Vietnam conflict.
Too Clever By Half?
The likely results of the White House shuffle of generals are, in fact, dangerous.The change makes the prospects dimmer for Obama executing a rapid--or even a measured--withdrawal from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011, as some in his administration had hoped.And the President may not yet realize how scandalized his political base has been at his penchant for Bush-like policies, rather than change anyone can still believe in.
Worse still for Obama, in replacing McChrystal with the popular Petraeus, who outnumbers Obama about 100 to zero in merit-badges-on-left-breast, he has given the sainted general the option of eventually calling for more and more troops and firepower lest we "lose" in Vietnamistan -- sorry, I mean Afghanistan.