It’s My Turn
The military is finally telling the unvarnished truth about President Obama’s dysfunctional national security team.
Oddly, Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his inner circle chose to dish dirt to a reporter for Rolling Stone, a decidedly left-wing publication that portrays the U.S. military negatively and knows as much about counter-insurgency as a 4th grader. The article that brought down the career special-operations soldier throws in the “F-word” several times, not as a quote, but to describe the author’s own views.
Not included in the story is an ongoing dispute between the White House and its generals that shows why McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, had grown so frustrated.
The debate centers on when exactly troops will begin leaving Afghanistan. Every time a Pentagon figure, such as Gen. David Petraeus, the overall region commander, testified that Obama’s July 2011 withdrawal date does not mean the U.S. is abandoning Afghanistan, there was a White House official saying nearly the opposite.
The result is a badly mangled message to Afghan troops and villagers who think America is going to leave them to the mercies of the Taliban, which shows no mercy. Thus, McChrystal’s counter-insurgency strategy of winning over the population cannot possibly succeed as long as the White House undercuts it. This is an administration that eschews using the words war or victory or winning.
The Rolling Stone article, which led President Obama to fire the four-star McChrystal on Wednesday, caught the general and his team in raw lockerroom talk.
McChrystal, handpicked by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to turn around an eight-year war, clearly derides Obama as commander-in-chief. He says the President seemed “uncomfortable” and “intimidated” when he met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon’s secure meeting room known as the tank. An aide describes his first meeting with Obama at the White House as a “photo op,” as opposed to a substantive meeting.
From there, the relationship grew more uneasy. Gates last year ordered his new commander to do a fresh review of strategy. Much to the White House’s dismay, McChrystal submitted an elaborate plan just months after the President had already settled on his own strategy.
And the general asked for 40,000 more troops after Obama had already approved and sent 21,000. McChrystal was pulling Obama deeper into Afghanistan, and the President did not like it. McChrystal described to Rolling Stone as “painful” the three months it took Obama to act on his request, as the Taliban took more territory and became harder for U.S. troops to dislodge.
Vice President Joe Biden was the brunt of jokes, according to the Rolling Stone article, entitled “The Runaway General.”
McChrystal had been called to the woodshed by Obama once before when, in a speech in London, he dismissed the Vice President’s counterinsurgency suggestions as creating a “chaosistan.”
Asked by Rolling Stone how he would handle a question on Biden from an audience in Paris, McChrystal tries this response, “Are you asking about Vice President? Who’s that?”
An aide chimes in with his proposed answer: “Biden? Did you say, bite me.”
Let’s look at why a general and his staff might be dismissive of Joe Biden.
Back in 2007, when Gen. Petraeus, who will succeed McChrystal in Afghanistan, testified in Congress on how the Iraq surge was beginning to work, then-Sen. Biden dismissed him with these observations: • “In continuing the surge of forces for another six months, is that likely to change that reality? The conclusion I’ve reached is no. The surge, for whatever tactical or temporary security gains it might achieve, is at the service of a fundamentally flawed strategy.” • “We should stop the surge and start bringing our troops home. We should end a political strategy in Iraq that cannot succeed and begin one that can.”
Biden also proposed dividing Iraq into three countries.
Today, as U.S. troops are conducting a measured withdrawal, Biden’s views have been shown to be so wrong that even he has abandoned them.
He said recently, “I am very optimistic about Iraq. I mean, this could be one of the great achievements of this administration. You’re going to see 90,000 American troops come marching home by the end of the summer. You’re going to see a stable government in Iraq that is actually moving toward a representative government.”
So how has Biden helped McChrystal? He’s offered some of the same illconceived ideas. He opposed McChrystal’s strategy and his troop request. Thankfully for the general, Gates backed him and he got 30,000 of the 40,000 troops he requested. Biden wants to withdraw from Afghanistan and contain the enemy from without.
And, just as Petraeus was trying to ease Afghan concerns about being abandoned, Biden is quoted by a book author as saying troops will rush out of the country come July 2011. The McChrystal team also targeted Karl Eikenberry, who used to command troops in Afghanistan as a three-star Army general and is now the U.S. ambassador.
Obama’s decision to put Eikenberry and McChrystal in the same room was doomed from the start. Officers in Kabul told me that when Eikenberry was in command and someone mentioned the Afghan president, the joke was, which president, Eikenberry or Hamid Karzai? In other words, Afghanistan belonged to Eikenberry and McChrystal was the invader.
No wonder then that when McChrystal was working to get his strategy approved, Eikenberry wrote a cable back to Washington opposing it as sure to fail. The message somehow got leaked to the New York Times.
McChrystal told Rolling Stone he felt betrayed by the ambassador.
McChrystal aides describe James Jones, Obama’s national security adviser, as a “clown.” Richard Holbrooke, a special ambassador in the region, is described as a “wounded animal” because he continually fears he will be fired.
With a national security team that seemed to be hoping McChrystal would fail, it is not surprising he chose to vent to a reporter.
The White House now knows the military has little regard for key figures on the national security team. Maybe this cold slap in the face will prompt Obama to fire more than a career soldier who hunted down in 2006 Abu Musab Zarqawi, al Qaeda’s deadliest operative in Iraq.