Obama, for those of you who did not witness his just concluded speech, has fired General McChrystal, and replaced him with Petraeus. At the same time he reaffirmed, with unusually strong language, that McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan will not change. (When I get access to the transcript I’ll add the direct quote).
I normally hesitate to make snap judgments, and I am only too willing to hear some pushback from all of you, but I thought this was an extraordinarily risky move by Obama. Call it ballsy. Call it foolhardy. Call it leadership. Or call it classic Obama – but my first reaction is that he has managed to split the difference again. In effect, he jettisoned the General, while doubling down on the General’s strategy. The immediate consequence in my view is that he’s now lost all political cover on this issue. At one point he could potentially say we tried it McChrystal’s way, and it’s not working. That becomes harder to do with McChrystal gone – now if things go sour the refrain from the Right will be “Why didn’t you keep McChrystal?”
And that means he has a difficult decision to make if, and when, it becomes clear next July that the scheduled draw down probably can’t happen. Do we stay or do we go?
For better or for worse, this is now Obama’s War.
(Note: Martin has an interesting take in the comments to my previous post on this topic).
2:57 Addendum: Here are the direct quotes from Obama I referenced above, taken from the New York Times website, that indicate it’s full steam ahead with the McChrystal strategy, if not with McChrystal:
“So make no mistake. We have a clear goal. We are going to break the Taliban’s momentum. We are going to build Afghan capacity. We are going to relentlessly apply pressure on Al Qaeda and its leadership, strengthening the ability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to do the same.
That’s the strategy that we agreed to last fall. That is the policy that we are carrying out in Afghanistan and Pakistan…
Let me say to the American people, this is a change in personnel, but it is not a change in policy. General Petraeus fully participated in our review last fall, and he both supported and helped design the strategy that we have in place.”
Does that sound like a President who is using this as an opportunity to reconsider his strategy? I think not.