My longtime colleague, Tunku Varadarajan (in The Daily Beast) writes, "Barack Obama, who has in recent days turned haplessness into an art form, played a masterstroke today, making perhaps the canniest, wiliest, even wisest decision of his generally rudderless presidency. I refer, of course, to his appointment of David Petraeus to the Afghan war command, in place of the Rolling-Stoned Stanley McChrystal. In doing so, Obama has, at a stroke, taken Petraeus out of the 2012 presidential race."
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Making things McChrystal clear...
Today, the president's handpicked chief warrior in Afghanistan lost his job.
And the previous president's chief warrior in Iraq, who had been lambasted by many of the current president's closest friends and supporters, was given the former's job.
After what can only be described as the strangest (or lamest) decision in PR history - to let a Rolling Stone reporter chum around with a military leader - and the ensuing reportage detailing derision aimed at the civilian leaders in the Obama Administration by Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his staff, the president removed the general for "exercising poor judgment."
To his credit, the president did it all just right.
When the story first came to light, it was hard to imagine why Barack Obama, the Commander in Chief, wouldn't get on the hotline to McChrystal and summarily boot the general. After all, he is the Commander in Chief and public insubordination, disrespect or dissent cannot be tolerated among his military.
Instead, he had the SpecOps warrior hightail it to the White House for a face-to-face. Not only did it give the general one last opportunity to explain what he had done (or hadn't), it also gave the president the opportunity to get The Next lined-up.
The Next just happened to be Gen. David Petraeus - the author of the Iraq Surge (George W. Bush's general) - who also had been McChrystal's boss.
Been there, done that - a previous dressing down of McChrystal by Obama...
Regardless of whatever strategies went into Obama's choice, it's a good one. Petraeus is a brilliant commander with a record of achievement. Even if the president/his team saw the new Afghanistan chief as less of a political threat if he were dealing with Taliban, it was probably the very best choice he could make.
What will be interesting now is to see how much - if any - McChrystal's plans and execution differ from Petraeus'. Since the latter was the former's boss (and is actually thought to be the architect of the overarching strategy), the bet is not will be apparent. He's unlikely to be on the battlefield on SpecOps with his troops (like McChrystal was known to do), but he'll likely get more traction on Capitol Hill - and with allies - than his sometimes combative and seemingly indifferent predecessor did.
Defense Sec. Robert Gates, Obama and Petraeus at today's news conference...
One likely - positive - outcome: it's safe to bet that Petraeus will be able to buy more time now for his troops to beat the Taliban. Originally, 2011 was the start date for withdrawal and it's hard to imagine the U.S. will have vanquished the Islamist militants by then. Petraeus will likely get more support from the Democrats in Congress in an effort to boost Obama, including more time to finish the job we set out on years ago.
Bonus item: the future Commander in Chief at his future general's Iraq hearings. Because he was busy building a personal highlight reel, he didn't really get any questions to Petraeus. Telling/typical...