Obama's political messge conflicts with reality in Afghanistan

Rowan Scarborough:

The military is finally telling the unvarnished truth about President Obama's dysfunctional national security team.

Oddly, Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his inner circle chose to dish dirt to a reporter for Rolling Stone, a decidedly left-wing publication that portrays the U.S. military negatively and knows as much about counter-insurgency as a 4th grader. The article that brought down the career special-operations soldier throws in the "F-word" several times, not as a quote, but to describe the author's own views.

Not included in the story is an ongoing dispute between the White House and its generals that shows why McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, had grown so frustrated.

The debate centers on when exactly troops will begin leaving Afghanistan. Every time a Pentagon figure, such as Gen. David Petraeus, the overall region commander, testified that Obama's July 2011 withdrawal date does not mean the U.S. is abandoning Afghanistan, there was a White House official saying nearly the opposite.

The result is a badly mangled message to Afghan troops and villagers who think America is going to leave them to the mercies of the Taliban, which shows no mercy. Thus, McChrystal's counter-insurgency strategy of winning over the population cannot possibly succeed as long as the White House undercuts it. This is an administration that eschews using the words war or victory or winning.

The Rolling Stone article, which led President Obama to fire the four-star McChrystal on Wednesday, caught the general and his team in raw locker-room talk.

McChrystal, handpicked by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to turn around an eight-year war, clearly derides Obama as commander in chief. He says the President seemed "uncomfortable" and "intimidated" when he met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon's secure meeting room know as the tank. An aide describes his first meeting with Obama at the White House as a "photo op," as opposed to a substantive meeting.

From there, the relationship grew more uneasy. Gates last year ordered his new commander to do a fresh review of strategy. Much to the White House's dismay, McChrystal submitted an elaborate plan just months after the President had already settled on his own strategy.

And the general asked for 40,000 more troops after Obama had already approved and sent 21,000. McChrystal was pulling Obama deeper into Afghanistan, and the President did not like it. McChrystal described to Rolling Stone as "painful" the three months it took Obama to act on his request, as the Taliban took more territory and became harder for U.S. troops to dislodge.


When the President set the deadline for beginning troop withdrawals he was dealing with a liberal Democrat Congress that was not willing to give war much of a chance in Afghanistan. While the President is clearly in a weaker political position now, the upside of facing a potential Republican majority is that they will be willing to give him and the military more time to defeat the enemy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is no small difference and it will be of benefit to Gen. Petraeus as he tries to get the Washington clock in sync with the reality on the ground in the war zone.


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