Editorial: Another war casualty

This latest event was not the first to land Stanley McChrystal in trouble with the White House.
This latest event was not the first to land Stanley McChrystal in trouble with the White House.
Posted: June 24, 2010

Stanley McChrystal's command has become a casualty of war. But the wounds were self-inflicted. No one is irreplaceable in battle, not even the general in charge. So it must be with McChrystal. His absence only means another soldier must step up to fill the breach.

President Obama had to accept McChrystal's resignation Wednesday. By publicly airing his disdain for this country's civilian leaders, McChrystal and his aides, in effect, endangered U.S. troops by giving the enemy another reason to fight harder in the belief that they will ultimately prevail.

Beyond that, their remarks expressing contempt for Vice President Biden, Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry, National Security Adviser Jim Jones, and Richard C. Holbrooke, special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, amounted to an indirect slap at the president that questions a key tenet of this nation - that the military is always subservient to its civilian commander in chief.

Nor was it the first time that McChrystal's questioning of the president's policies landed him in trouble. A leak of McChrystal's policy review last June put pressure on Obama to order more troops to Afghanistan. And last fall, Obama called McChrystal on the carpet for saying publicly that Biden's Afghanistan ideas would create a state of "Chaos-istan."

In the end, Obama decided he could no longer trust a general who has long had the reputation of being a cowboy inclined to going his own way. He accepted McChrystal's resignation. Former Iraq commander Gen. David H. Petraeus, who currently heads the U.S. Central Command, will take over in Afghanistan.

That is not where this chapter should end. The aftermath of McChrystal's flirting with insubordination should prompt Obama to revisit the differences the general had with his civilian counterparts. In firing McChrystal, the president said a change of personnel, not policy, was occurring. But is he sure that policy is working?

Both Biden and Eikenberry have expressed doubts that a counterinsurgency strategy can succeed - no matter how many troops are poured into Afghanistan - when the indigenous population has no confidence in President Hamid Karzai, who may have committed election fraud and tolerates corruption.

Obama has set July 2011 as the date he would like to begin withdrawing troops, but that date increasingly looks optimistic. A major offensive in Kandahar set for this summer has been postponed until fall. Meanwhile, America's longest war continues to take a sobering toll in casualties and billions of dollars spent.

Such a precious investment demands good leadership. Petraeus has shown he will work hard to accomplish the mission put before him. Obama's civilian leaders must be as committed to succeed. And they all must agree not to stay tied to a policy if it becomes obvious that it isn't working.

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