It was inevitable, as is the outcome of the foolish war in Afghanistan. Regardless of their newly found (though not so recently discovered if anyone had been paying attention) mineral wealth, there is no good ending to the killing fields of Afghanistan. From the retribution that struck the heart of most Americans in that dark place of humanity after 911 to a guerrilla war with factions that shift like the sands in the deserts, this war is more unwinnable than Vietnam - and more complicated in its political alignments, its history, and its geography.
Based on the quoted material in Rolling Stone, this war is falling apart from the middle, which is apparent just from a few on record quotes from McChrystal's aides and underlings: Chief of Operations Major General Bill Mayville: "It's not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win. This is going to end in an argument." An unnamed senior adviser to the General: "If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular."
Without saying it, the General has changed his own view of the war, the one in which he counseled the President in recent months, saying he could win it if only the President authorized a troop surge.
But McChrystal is to the military what Palin is to civilian
politics: a loose cannon. Despite his
past dalliances with truth (e.g., the Pat Tillman case; accusations of abuse of
Iraqi detainees) and his involvement with secret CIA operations in which he
reported only to Cheney (Seymour Hersh characterized McChrystal's role as an "executive
assassination wing" of the military's joint special-operations command - NPR, March 30, 2009), Obama saw him as the go-to guy who
could turn the tide.
Problem is that Afghanistan is a landlocked country and there are no tides. The ancient tribes have been warding off their enemies for hundreds of years. As in Vietnam, the other imperialist nations gave up long ago and left the Afghanis to their own devices. In Vietnam, the US withdrawal and end to the fighting coupled with economic aid has transformed the country into a viable trading partner. It's hard to see that as a blueprint for Afghanistan at this point, at least as one that's politically viable.
Say what you will about McChrystal, he's no dummy, and his instinct and training is in strategizing and fighting to win at all costs. The idea that the Rolling Stone interview was some kind of drunken lark or stupid mistake on his part is not credible. This is a man of discipline, a man who conducted Pentagon briefings during the early years of the Iraq War when the Bush Administration was garnering public support. He knows his way around the media; this was no mistake.
McChrystal was faced with a choice: be the General who lost
the war in Afghanistan or the General who was fired for insubordination of a President who is pilloried daily by his cohorts. He
chose the latter. Perhaps he thought the war winnable if the Obama
Administration didn't restrain him in ways that the Bush Administration had
not. Perhaps real top-down policy changes in the new Administration have
changed the way things are done on the ground. But it's clear that McChrystal
was not going to be able to play rogue anymore; he was no longer in charge in
the same way. Right or wrong, he was unhappy about it.
Given the political climate and his own spotty military record, it's not hard to make the case that his mouthing off was no accident. McChrystal is now the new darling of the right, maligned by big, bad Obama, who in the eyes of the tea baggers can do nothing right; in fact, it makes McChrystal red meat as a potential presidential candidate for 2012. Ollie North and his ilk will surely support him. Even McCain could recall his mavricky self again and support an ex-military man for the White House. It's easy to channel the talking points: he's the maligned General who knows how to win but was hampered by Obama, who can succeed where Obama couldn't, for surely we'll still be enmeshed in this war come 2012 " and 2016 " "You're a better man than I, Gunga Din."