McChrystal Out, Petraeus Takes Over

It’s a sad end to a distinguished military career, but as someone who recently worked for Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and is a huge fan of the general, told me yesterday, the disparaging comments in the Rolling Stone article painted an ugly picture of a highly critical command element that had zero respect for its political leadership.

The comments showed a “cult of personality” had arisen among McChrystal that viewed the man as larger than the institution, and the war. McChrystal had already had a shot fired across his bow after his comments at the IISS conference in London a few months ago, and still, the public criticism of the political leadership continued. The elected civilian leadership is in control in this country, and that was what President Obama was forced to show today.

So Gen. David Petraeus will take over as ISAF commander in Afghanistan. The reality is the war there is not going well; if it was, perhaps McChrystal could have survived the careless remarks he and his staff made to the Rolling Stone reporter.

There has been a continued inability to develop a working relationship with Afghan president Hamid Karzai, whose government is seen as corrupt and predatory by many Afghans. The fabled “government-in-a-box” that was supposed to be inserted into Marja turned out to be empty; and, even the clearing operations in Marja didn’t go as well as expected, the one phase where the military is thought to have a real advantage in “clear, hold and build” counterinsurgency. Key allies are looking to the exits.

Can Petraeus work another miracle like he did in Iraq and salvage another war that many consider unsalvageable? That remains to be seen. Petraeus himself pointed out at a conference on counterinsurgency in Washington last year that one of the biggest lessons of Vietnam is not to be prisoner to past experiences; in the U.S. case, that means Iraq, and Afghanistan must be approached as a very different war.

Military operations are now focused on Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city and the spiritual heartland of the Taliban. As Joint Chiefs chair Adm, Mike Mullen told senators last week: “As goes Kandahar, so goes Afghanistan.”

-- Greg Grant

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