Monday, October 05, 2009

General Confusion: McChrystal, Petraeus

When Dwight David Eisenhower came back from World War II, no one knew whether he was a Republican or Democrat until he ran for president. He had spent his years as a commanding general steering clear of politics.

Not so today. Starting three years ago when Iraq was in shambles, George W. Bush took political cover behind Gen. David Petraeus, who successfully redirected a misbegotten war into a counter-insurgency that worked well enough to open the way for American troop withdrawal under the next president.

Now, in Afghanistan, this breach of traditional military-political separation is haunting the effort to devise a new strategy for another failing war.

Suddenly, Barack Obama's choice, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, is embarrassing his Commander-in-Chief by making preemptive speeches about decisions still in the making, leading to the kind of possible confrontation unseen since Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1951 for politicking to widen the Korean War.

McChrystal is no MacArthur, and his going public prematurely is much more likely the result of inexperience rather than arrogance, but the Petraeus precedent is complicating a painful debate in a time of political polarization.

As he showed clearly on 60 Minutes last month, McChrystal is a conscientious, forceful commander with no illusions about Afghanistan, but going public with what should be his confidential advice to the President before final decisions are made is a disservice to both his Commander-in-Chief and Pentagon superiors.

Meanwhile, Gen. Petraeus, who may or may not be thinking about running for president in 2012, is reported to have "largely muzzled himself from the fierce public debate about the war to avoid antagonizing the White House, which does not want pressure from military superstars and is wary of the general’s ambitions in particular."

Petraeus is a gifted military man, as McChrystal also seems to be, but while they are in uniform, they would do well to keep their political views apart in the Eisenhower manner. If and when they become civilians, there will be time enough for airing them forcefully.

Update: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the Bush holdover, weighed in today, subtly criticizing McChrystal. “I believe," he said, "the decisions that the president will make for the next stage of the Afghanistan campaign will be among the most important of his presidency, so it is important that we take our time to do all we can to get this right.

“And in this process, it is imperative that all of us taking part in these deliberations--civilians and military alike--provide our best advice to the president candidly but privately.

“And speaking for the Department of Defense, once the commander in chief makes his decisions, we will salute and execute those decisions faithfully and to the best of our ability.”


Fuzzy Slippers said...

I find it troubling when liberals (with all due respect to you, Mr. Stein) complain that the war (pick a war, any war since WWII) isn't going well when it's because of liberals that so many of our soldiers die needlessly. Yes, the blood of our troops is absolutely on the hands of the democrats who oppose and kill all bills and attempts to provide our military what it needs to succeed.

If dems would simply approve proper funding and ground troops, we could be in and out of there in no time; sure, we'd lose troops, but nowhere near as many as we do by dragging things out for years, sending our men and women to war with subpar and unarmored vehicles, shoddy equipment, and inadequate ground support. The result we see time and again, wars drag on, thousands of Americans die needlessly, and years later dems point out how ineffective the American effort is. Well, let's try sending in what is needed to do the job and our men and women will be home within a year. And at far less cost in terms of both money and lives.

But no. That doesn't play into the antiwar/anti-American sentiment that libs thrive on. Keep tying our military's hands, and we'll stay bogged down in there for years to come. You have no one to blame but yourselves, don't blame our military or even our president (be it Johnson, Nixon, Bush, Bush, or--gasp--BO).

jf said...

Fire McChrystal. Do it now. Nip that BS in the bud.

bus said...

Without troops just loose the war....