McChrystal is not Obama’s Grant

Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal was promoted to top commander in Afghanistan in May, 2009. He replaced General David McKiernan, who had been calling for big troop increases in the months before he was relieved. McChrystal has been calling for troop increases as well, taking his campaign public in recent weeks.

After complaining to the media that he did not have enough access to the president, McChrystal had a personal 25-minute summit aboard Air Force One with the Commander in Chief last week:

President Obama squeezed a 25-minute council of war into his Copenhagen visit yesterday, meeting General Stanley McChrystal aboard Air Force One before returning to Washington.

The general was summoned to the airborne White House on the day it was announced that four more British and American servicemen had died in Afghanistan. He was on his way back to Kabul from London, where he made a powerful public pitch for more troops to be sent to the battlefields.

Until yesterday, General McChrystal had been in direct contact with Mr Obama only twice since taking up his post as Nato commander in Kabul six months ago – once via video link to the Oval Office and then as a participant in a major Afghan strategy meeting on Wednesday, again via videolink.

Since arriving in Kabul, General McChrystal has written a damning assessment of the Afghan security situation, and an election marred by widespread fraud has undermined the case for propping up the regime of President Hamid Karzai.

The runway summit happened after McChrystal gave a speech in London pointedly criticizing the president and United States policy in Afghanistan:

When asked on CNN about the commander’s public lobbying for more troops, Gen Jim Jones, national security adviser, said:

“Ideally, it’s better for military advice to come up through the chain of command.”

Asked if the president had told the general to tone down his remarks, he told CBS: “I wasn’t there so I can’t answer that question. But it was an opportunity for them to get to know each other a little bit better. I am sure they exchanged direct views.”

An adviser to the administration said: “People aren’t sure whether McChrystal is being naïve or an upstart. To my mind he doesn’t seem ready for this Washington hard-ball and is just speaking his mind too plainly.”

In London, Gen McChrystal, who heads the 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan as well as the 100,000 Nato forces, flatly rejected proposals to switch to a strategy more reliant on drone missile strikes and special forces operations against al-Qaeda.

He told the Institute of International and Strategic Studies that the formula, which is favoured by Vice-President Joe Biden, would lead to “Chaos-istan”.

When asked whether he would support it, he said: “The short answer is: No.”

He went on to say: “Waiting does not prolong a favorable outcome. This effort will not remain winnable indefinitely, and nor will public support.”;

President Abraham Lincoln fired no less than five generals before he “found his Grant,” as T. Harry Williams wrote in Lincoln and His Generals:

Yet Lincoln and His Generals does show, clearly and readably, why Lincoln had to fire one general after another: 1) McDowell, who was routed at Bull Run; 2) McClellan, who, in Lincoln’s phrase, was afflicted with “the slows”; 3) Burnside, equivocal in the field and, by his own admission, lacking the confidence of his own officers; 4) Hooker, who disliked his unearned nickname, “Fighting Joe,” and hesitated when he should have moved; 5) Meade, who let Lee get away after Gettysburg.

(Citation is from Time Magazine review)

Donald T. Phillips explores this further in Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times.

President Obama is still seeking his General Grant for Afghanistan. McChrystal spouting off one-liners in public speeches is less than appropriate for a person of his stature.

President Obama must keep searching for his Grant. Our troops and the American people deserve no less.