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Obama should not fire McChrystal – here’s why

Lt. General Stanley McChrystal is being summoned to Washington DC today because of a pending article in Rolling Stone magazine where he and his aides trashed the civilian leadership of the war, including Obama, Biden, and others. McChrystal has apologized, but the political buzz is that Obama will fire him. I think this would be a huge mistake.


Keep in mind that McChrystal was hired – and his predecessor fired – by Obama precisely because “new thinking” was needed for the war in Afghanistan. McChrystal is *the* expert on counterinsurgency (COIN) and his basic premise in Afghanistan is that the strategy needs to shift away from killing bad guys to protecting civilians. The McChrystal report – which I covered in detail earlier – made the succinct observation that “Earn the support of the people and the war is won, regardless of how many militants are killed or captured.” President Obama’s increased reliance on targeted killings by unmanned drones actually undermines that strategy – but the drones themselves are a symptom of the political reality that even the increased troops sent by Obama (as per McChrystal’s request) are probably not enough. Since the United States has neither the political nor the material capital to send hundreds of thousands of troops (not to mention the horrible Imperial Occupation optics of such a policy), some balance must be achieved.


But McChrystal’s primary critique is that the balance is too aggressive rather than not enough. In this, he has to fight both the administration and even his own soldiers. Some of the targets of McChrystal’s critiques, like Biden and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, were opposed to the troop surge in the first place, disavowing COIN. The Administration wants to draw troops down, partly for political reasons (with the 2010 elections approaching). That would necessarily mean more drones, more collateral damage, and thus fewer hearts and minds. But McChrystal also has to curb the instincts of his troops, as evidenced by some of these revealing quotes from the Rolling Stone article (excerpted by Halperin at TIME):


In response to soldiers thinking the United States is losing
“Strength is leading when you just don’t want to lead. You’re leading by example. That’s what we do. Particularly when it’s really, really, hard, and it hurts inside.

On the controversial military strategy known as counterinsurgency (COIN):
“Winning hearts and minds in COIN is a coldblooded thing. The Russians killed 1 million Afghans, and that didn’t work.”

To soldiers, on the momentum of the insurgency:
“In this area, we’ve not made progress, probably. You have to show strength here, you have to use fire. What I’m telling you is, fire costs you. What do you want to do? You want to wipe the population out here and resettle it?


To soldiers complaining that unarmed insurgents are assumed to be civilians:
That’s the way this game is. It’s complex. I can’t just decide: It’s shirts and skins, and we’ll kill all the shirts.

In another excerpt from the Rolling Stone article, you get a taste of the attitude of the troops towards McChrystal’s strategy:

One soldier shows me the list of new regulations the platoon was given. “Patrol only in areas that you are reasonably certain that you will not have to defend yourselves with lethal force,” the laminated card reads. For a soldier who has traveled halfway around the world to fight, that’s like telling a cop he should only patrol in areas where he knows he won’t have to make arrests. “Does that make any f-king sense?” Pfc. Jared Pautsch. “We should just drop a f-king bomb on this place. You sit and ask yourself:  What are we doing here?”


Simple question, simple answer: you’re winning instead of losing, soldier. And that’s the problem – McChrystal advocates restraint, and that is being spun by the usual armchair warmonger crowd as “unreasonable restrictions on rules of engagement”. Hence, conservative pundits are itching for Obama to fire McChrystal, hoping for a return to the kicking-ass, burn-the-village aggressive posture that was the signature of the neglected Afghan campaign under the Bush Administration. But that old strategy was a failure because it could not define victory by any metric other than body counts. Hearts and minds are harder to measure, and McChrystal seems to be the only one who understands that. Obama needs to listen to Hillary Clinton and just “if Stan wants it, give him what he needs.” Or withdraw from Afghanistan entirely.


Related: In a way, the number of troops is a red herring – the real problem is that we don’t have enough civilians in Afghanistan.

Comments read comments(22)
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posted June 22, 2010 at 11:55 am

O my habbibi…..there is no winning in the Graveyard of Empires.
We have already lost.
McChrystal is trying to pre-stage blame because he doesn’t want to be the pharmekos in 2 more years when we leave.

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posted June 22, 2010 at 3:56 pm

heres why McC should be forced to stay on.
Firing Gen McC–
McChrystal is preparing his letter of resignation. Although his plan is not working, he will run for office saying if only they would have listened to me.
Obama should not accept it.
If there is going to be a pharmekos, let it be McChrystal.
McC is pre-staging the blame for the eventual Epic Fail of COIN in the Graveyard of Empires.
There is no “winning” in the Graveyard, and McChrystal has now realized that…he is throwing blame chaff.
We have already lost…the general has the raw data feed from the boots on the ground…he knows the truth.
Now McChrystal would LIKE to be fired or replaced in advance of the bitter cup of fail that is coming to him.
I think he should have to be in charge of overseeing the withdrawal….better yet…let him tell the media his strat is Fail, and we have already lost.
Such hubris can only be punished by forcing him to witness i think.
WE have ALREADY lost!
the brits got the memo.

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posted June 23, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Your argument is that McChrystal’s strategy is why he should be retained. He may have a good strategy, which someone else should be able to carry out. Although, I wonder whether we have any proof that what he advocated is working. But, even if it is, there are two reasons why he should be fired. He was insubordinate. He can hate Obama, Biden and everyone else in the administration. He just can’t say so in public. Not allowed. Second, he showed incredibly poor judgement in saying what he did, to the Rolling Stone, for heaven’s sake.

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Your Name

posted June 23, 2010 at 2:59 pm

What happened to freedom of speech? Is this the new policy? Get fired for saying what you think and feel!!!!!!!!

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Bill Kilpatrick

posted June 24, 2010 at 5:22 am

Well, he’s gone, fired, dismissed, given a blessing and a release. It’s done.
He deserved what he got. You don’t get to that position in life without learning to keep your mouth shut. Generals are not politicians. They are not supposed to enter the political fray. Giving an interview with Rolling Stone, and then using it as a forum with which to rip into the President, isn’t something you can limp away from. It didn’t work for MacArthur. I’m half-inclined to suspect that he gave the interview specifically to get himself fired so he could walk away from a no-win situation.
We can’t prop up a government in Afghanistan. We’re not Afghanis. We can’t do for them what they need to do for themselves. Our blessing on any regime there is a curse against it. As soon as we leave, the Karzai regime will totter. Without rigged elections, it’s a lost cause.
Democracy is not something one nation can impose upon another. That’s not how Democracy works. Afghanistan’s problems are still there. American occupation there is just a slow and expensive failure. As time goes on, the likelihood that the Taliban will return just continues to rise. We gain more through trade than war.

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posted June 24, 2010 at 9:07 am

MacChrystal is probably frustrated with it all…that was the trigger in his remarks…the feet dragging when we need to surge and end it…you dont play games with people’s lives…our state department is playing a major role in this….Obama….that’s a whole other ball of wax…US doesnt have the monies to wage full scale surge…many factors affecting the outcome of this war.

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posted June 27, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Well, we are in uncharted waters. McChrystal is a human being as well as a soldier. The pot calling the kettle black.Obama and his cabinet need to hold themselves to the same benchmark as they require of the military. The military could use a makeover and some policy changes as well.

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posted June 28, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Well it’s over. The General is fired.
What part will all the “new” mineral wealth play in our role in Afghanistan?
Did the Bush administration know about the Soviet mineral survey?
If they did when did they know?
God’s blessing on us all!
“God bless us everyone.”

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posted July 3, 2010 at 10:43 am

He shouldn’t have been fired. Period. All the politics and corruption in this administration are destroying commonsense. Just a bunch of big egos in Washington who are so wrapped up in images and winning the next election they have all become deluded. Serious problems for our nation. The General should never have been fired.

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