Jennifer Rubin on the McChrystal flap
Michael O’Hanlon of Brookings, an early and effective advocate of the surge in Iraq, writes today in defense of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, whom Robert Gates, James Jones, and presumably the president too would rather pipe down. He concedes that, as a rule, military commanders shouldn’t wade into policy issues:
But when truly bad ideas or those already tried and discredited are debated as serious proposals, they do not deserve intellectual sanctuary. McChrystal is personally responsible for the lives of 100,000 NATO troops who are suffering severe losses partially as a result of eight years of a failed counterinsurgency under a different name.
O’Hanlon therefore argues that there isn’t merely a “right to speak if a policy debate becomes too far removed from reality” but, in essence, an obligation to do so. (”We need to hear from him because he understands this reality far better than most in Washington.”) And O’Hanlon reminds his fellow Democrats that they were the ones pleading with the military to step forward (testify in front of Congress before Donald Rumsfeld’s departure) when Bush’s Iraq policy was faltering.
McChrystal’s forthrightness and the defensive reaction of the White House tell us several things. First, the White House doesn’t have a good response on the merits. “Shut up” is not a policy analysis. Second, whatever processes exist within the White House for decision-making have stalled and malfunctioned, causing the debate to go public. Had a decision been promptly made, none of this would have occurred. And third, now the entire country knows the unified position of the military and understands that the opposition comes from the likes of Joe Biden. The public-relations problem for the White House has gotten much worse.
When we put aside the conflict between the military and the White House, we are still left with the underlying question: Will Obama implement the recommendation of his general to achieve his policy, and if not, why not? Eventually, if he rejects his commanders’ advice, the president will have to live with the consequences, both on the battlefield and at home. And right now, many voters are wondering why the White House is telling its most respected military leaders not to tell the public the unvarnished truth about a war that just seven weeks ago the president declared to be critical to our national security.
McChrystal's request isn't unwarranted. He is in charge of the operations in Afghanistan, and knows damn well that he needs a change in strategy, tactics, and troop strength. It's not a secret that the rules of engagement (RoEs) are getting our soldiers killed because we're taking pains not to harm the civilian populace. We take steps to protect civilians as much as possible, but let's not kid ourselves. Afghanistan is a warzone, and sometimes civilians die. But handcuffing our troops isn't the answer. The RoEs that worked in Iraq could similarly work in Afghanistan, but the administration has decided to end the common sense utilized by our soldiers.
The administration's reaction to McChrystal's dissent on their stalling was the wrong way to go. Basically telling the generals and commanders to "shut up," as Ms. Rubin points out is 180 degrees opposite of what we saw with President Bush. Then Democrats wanted commanders to pipe up, and tell people what was going wrong in Iraq. President Bush asked for and received a no BS assessment from General Petraeus, and he listened to the general's recommendations. Barry isn't giving McChrystal the respect he deserves. Two meetings in seventy days is not the sort of behavior that the public expects from their president. President Bush had weekly, if not daily, updates from Iraq -- from Petraeus, from al-Maliki, from the Pentagon, etc. Barry apparently can't squeeze McChrystal in on his schedule.
Public opinion is beginning to shift for the worse. Many people are now saying that if the president won't grant McChrystal's request then it's time to end the mission and bring the troops home. We're beginning to feel that way ourselves despite the fact that we know the repercussions of such a retreat. We would abandon Afghanistan to a resurgent Taliban; one content on not only driving us from Afghanistan, but one also intent on toppling the Pakistani government. the latter prospect is not one that anyone would like to see, unless the Democrats admit they don't see a problem with militant Islamicists being in control of a nuclear arsenal. (Given Barry's appeasement with Iran, at the moment, one could easily see them not having a problem with terrorists having a nuclear arsenal at their disposal.)
McChrystal was right for sounding off on Afghanistan, especially after seeing that the president really isn't showing any interest in Afghanistan, or an inclination to do what is necessary to win that theater of operations. Given Petraeus's frankness on the Iraq theater, had Bush been equally deaf, we expect he would've sounded off, as well.
The lesson the White House needs to learn is simple: President Obama, you were elected not to bring about "hope" and "change." You were elected to lead the greatest, freest, most powerful nation on Earth. Part of that responsibility is to serve as commander-in-chief, and serve our soldiers wisely and rightly. At the current time, you are doing neither. It's time to put down the teleprompter, put aside the whirlwind trips to New York or Europe, and stop campaigning. You've been elected already.
The people of the nation are awaiting your leadership. If you can't handle that, then maybe you should resign and let one of the adults in the administration take over, and you can go back to Chicago to continue your "career" as a community organizer perpetually on vacation. Being president is a real job, and a serious one. You're treating it like it's a burger flipping job for a teenager.