Of the many interesting narratives swirling around the Obama/McChrystal saga, the least explored to date— less than 24 hours in—the subtleties in messaging are worth noting.
Of these vaguely insinuating, dual messages put forth by Democrats and their not-so-silent brethren in the mainstream media:
- President Obama’s swift dismissal of Gen. Stanley McChrystal demonstrates his solid command of the military, his decisive nature, and his commitment to success in Afghanistan; and
- that McChrystal is just one more cobwebbed item on a forgotten back shelf of the Presidential pantry, another staple of the Bush administration, whose expiration date has come and gone.
Both narratives are absurd, dishonest to their core, and also dependent upon each other for proverbial oxygen; let us now quickly asphyxiate them both, giving them—and us—some deserved mercy.
As news of the Rolling Stone piece hit the airways on Tuesday, and Obama issued his royal summons to Gen. McChrystal, he was careful to assert that he’d need to speak with him, “in person,” prior to making any final decisions regarding his continued command of the Afghan war effort.
If any of the court stenographers who comprise the majority of the White House Press Pool were convinced by this supposedly detached, unemotional reserve, they should have been paying closer attention to imperial mouthpiece Robert Gibbs (and to give proper credit, ABC’s Jake Tapper clearly was paying attention).
For it was the sneering, dour Gibbs who delivered the public shiv in the ribs to McChrystal, saying it was as yet undetermined whether McChrystal was “capable and mature enough” to lead the war effort in Afghanistan. Ouch. Harsh words—and also compelling testament that Gen. McChrystal’s fate was sealed well in advance of his half-hour meeting with President Obama.
A White House disingenuous with the facts, willing to stage manage and choreograph an important meeting, the outcome of which has already been decided? What? Loaded with precedent, hardly newsworthy, you say? Perhaps.
But the real question should be: If Gen. McChrystal is incapable and immature, whose responsibility is that? And whose failure? Whose leadership, experience and judgment are called into question?
And where, exactly, does “the Buck” stop, again? Is it at Bush’s feet, propped, cowboy-booted, on a coffee table somewhere in the Dallas suburbs these past 18 months?
Or, is this, finally, a “crisis” that Obama owns, and owns alone?
Contrary to some of the whispers issuing forth like so much gas from Democrat operatives and media mouthpieces, Gen. McChrystal was never “Bush’s guy.” He is, and has always been, Obama’s man: 12 months ago, he was being hailed in the media as Obama’s “hand-picked” replacement of Gen. McKiernan.
Never mind that it had taken Obama more than half a year to reveal and articulate a plan for the war in Afghanistan—a plan that looked very much like the Bush plan.
Never mind, too, that Obama has met with his general less than a handful of times, most famously—and for only the second time in McChrystal’s then four-month tenure—on the tarmac in Copenhagen, as the president engaged in an unsuccessful flyby of lobbying on behalf of Olympic host-city hopeful, Chicago.
Is this evidence that Obama is committed to the war effort in Afghanistan? Hardly.
An excuse for ignoring, then marginalizing and isolating your seasoned commander? Not a chance.
A demonstration of Presidential command? Absolutely…in this administration.
Gen. McChrystal was Obama’s handpicked general to run the war in Afghanistan. And when Obama’s handpicked General turned on him, he fired him…and hired President Bush’s hand-picked Gen. Petraeus. The same Gen. Petraeus who was the architect of the surge in Iraq—the wildly successful surge in Iraq that was at first dismissed by Obama, and then grudgingly, barely, reluctantly acknowledged by Obama to be a “moderate” success.
And so, like much of the controversy that surrounds this administration, we’re once again confronted with elements of pure tragedy, blessedly wrapped in total comedy. Seriously.
Obama’s tactical mistake was an elementary one; he stepped in his own trap. McChrystal complained to the media because Obama had failed to properly equip his Army, and so, on the eve of the most important tactical operation in years—the Kandahar Surge—Obama takes the guy out of theater.
This is military leadership?
Did Obama relieve McChrystal in order to strengthen our position in Afghanistan? To buoy troop morale? To assuage the often fungible commitment of the Karzai regime? None of these. He did it solely in an attempt to “save his own face.”
Well, the enduring salient point remains, Obama tapped a Bush veteran—a veteran he once assailed publicly—to lead the way in Afghanistan.
The only certain outcome here is that Obama now, definitely, “owns” this command. God help us all.
Scott Wheeler is a former investigative journalist, and the Founder and Executive Director of the National Republican Trust PAC. Buckley Carlson is a Washington-based writer and political strategist.