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Time for a Leadership Change in Afghanistan?

By John Martin - Posted on 06 October 2009

Now that General McChrystal has publicly undermined the President, it's time to start asking where his loyalties lie.

It's likely that Obama's Afghanistan plan will fall short of what his top commanders have been requesting, which won't come as a surprise to McChrystal.  Over the summer, Obama instructed both McChrystal and General Petraeus to "scrub everything," and "to make sure they didn't ask for more than they needed" when they presented their formal requests for Afghanistan.  Despite the fact that he knew Obama was leaning towards a smaller commitment of troops, McChrystal told a foreign audience last week that a scaled-back effort in Afghanistan would be a mistake.

We've all heard recent speculation that General Petraeus has his eye on the presidency in 2012.  Apparently, this has been on the General's mind for quite some time.  Here's an article from 2007, when Obama was still just a junior Senator:

The US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, expressed long-term interest in running for the US presidency when he was stationed in Baghdad, according to a senior Iraqi official who knew him at that time.
Sabah Khadim, then a senior adviser at Iraq's Interior Ministry, says General Petraeus discussed with him his ambition when the general was head of training and recruitment of the Iraqi army in 2004-05.
"I asked him if he was planning to run in 2008 and he said, 'No, that would be too soon'," Mr Khadim, who now lives in London, said.

I don't know the extent of his relationship between General McChrystal and General Petraeus, but the two are reportedly close.  I do know that Petreaus came out in support of McChrystal's assessment of the Afghan war after it was leaked to the press two weeks ago.

While I can't say for sure that McChrystal is deliberately undermining President Obama's authority, and in turn, giving a boost to Petraeus' political future, it certainly could be taken that way.  Right now, Obama is stuck with two choices; he can either change course, and capitulate to McChrystal's plan for an additional 40,000 troops, or he can stick to his guns and authorize something smaller.  Of course, this latter option would leave Obama open to the largest "I told you so" in the history of American politics should we eventually lose Afghanistan.  If that happened, Petraeus could easily became the candidate to beat in 2012, something Obama's people are well aware of.

It's neither too early nor too late to dismiss McChrystal.  It's hard to believe the general didn't understand why it was wrong for him to speak out of turn, especially considering the fine line the President must walk.  Part of winning this war is ensuring that Obama can keep both the public's support and the confidence of the armed forces.  He doesn't need his top commanders creating a public debate from their personal opinions.  McChrystal has had some significant achievements throughout his career, but he's replaceable.  We have plenty of other generals who'd give their right arm for a chance to win Afghanistan.  Most would probably also know when to not challenge their boss.

After General MacArthur publicly questioned President Truman's handling of the Korean War, it look the President three weeks before relieving MacArthur of his duties.  There's still time for Obama to reassert himself.  Although it looks like the Obama administration has settled on a public dressing-down of McChrystal as punishment, this ultimately might not send strong enough of a message.   Obama is the decider.  When it comes to his duties as Commander-in-Chief, he needs to make it clear that he won't be questioned.

Part of me feels the media is over-exaggerating any "rifts" between Obama and his commanders. We all knew it was risky for Pres. Obama to keep Bush people, but I think he truly respects their credentials and expertise. At the same time, I'm sure he will reassert his authority in this situtation and make it clear that the buck stops with him. If they don't honor that, I'm sure they will be replaced rather quickly.

Well, I don't think this is just about McChrystal and the "leak." I remember reading quite a few months ago about Cheney having very loyal supporters positioned all throughout the government, in all layers and nearly all areas, including the military.

I think it is Cheney's "mole" who is behind McChrystal's "leak," and for all I know it's McChrystal himself who is the Cheney connection. Which could explain some of McChrystal's "off message" comments around the globe.

I know it sounds very conspiratorial, but I put nothing past that man (Cheney). Ethics mean nothing to him. Laws mean nothing to him. 


I also am weary of conspiracy theories, but I also think it's important to keep all possible scenarios in mind-- especially when we're talking about important things like the leadership of the country.

I think in some respects the media is under-exaggerating this.  At least the mainstream press is.  Think of it-- Obama was reportedly furious at McChrystal.  This caused him to schedule an impromptu meeting with him on Air Force One, just to make sure McChrystal new where Obama stood.  As if that wasn't enough, he then had the Defense Secretary and his National Security Advisor do a couple of public appearances emphasizing that the General overstepped his bounds.

Needless to say, we're not going to see McChrystal doing any more town halls anytime soon.

This story from MSNBC may fuel your suspicions. I would not be terribly surprised if some Cheney loyalists are trying to cause trouble for President Obama. I don't think we are talking top dogs but maybe some of their staffers. I hope they can discover who they are and politely let them know their services are no longer needed.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates forwarded an "informal copy" of General Stanley McChrystal's troop request to President Obama late last week. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Wednesday that President Obama asked Gates for a copy of the request for additional forces in Afghanistan, despite the fact that the document came directly from McChrystal and had NOT yet been vetted by the military leadership and the chain of command.

Why step over his military leaders? Morrell said that Secretary Gates "saw what happened" when McChrystal's assessment was leaked and he "wanted to avoid any opportunity for leaking before" Obama had a chance to see the troop request. Typically, McChrystal would send his request to NATO leadership and to his boss at Central Command, General Petraeus, who would then forward it to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The Joint Chiefs would then provide it to Gates and ultimately it would end up on Obama's desk. The military leadership would provide their comments and recommendations at each step.  

The troop request is now working its way through the proper chain of command.


I'm new to this site.  Been in the Army for 12 years.  Has for the Gen comments;  Anyone who has ever served knows there is a chain of command.  If anyone believes the administration doesn't know when the Gen speaks and to what he is speaking about, is mistaken.  If Obama didn't know what was going on, he should be ashamed.  Anyone on here a manager/supervisor?  If so, do you not know if your employee is giving a speach and what he or she will address in that speach?  The only input you should consider, are the boots on the ground.  Who else knows better?  The guy in the corner office reading speadsheets?  If he really wants to win this fight, provide the tools for our commander to fight! 

Welcome. I hope you stick around because the more civil point of views we can get, the better. This site has become a place for pretty civil political discussion and we actually have a little of everything: liberals, conservatives, moderates, independents, Democrats and Republicans (obviously) etc...

There are also people here who have military experience so they can definitely relate to things you might say.

Welcome to RFO sua.  I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts.

As a GM for many years, I always knew what a middle manager was supposed to say in addressing others.  I also know that there were times they deviated from policy, intentionally or not.  It was then up to me to do clean up.

I don't pretend to know what the right answer is for Afghanistan.  I do believe however, that all voices need to be heard and taken into consideration...from the lowest ranking boots on the ground, to the Generals to the policy makers.  It is only then that a comprehensive plan can be formulated. 

But how can 40,000 more troops be effective when the government is so corrupt? If bribes, threats, and greed rule the day, how exactly can we make a difference? I think we all wish it could be that simple and we'd all support it 100%, but the definition of success is very complex (and perhaps not even on the radar no matter what we do) so is it worth more American lives? I'm glad President Obama is studying this from all angles. I've heard people even suggest a better way would be to pay off the Taliban (similar to what we did in Iraq) and as awful as that sounds, it may mean a more realisitc route to an end game.

Thank you all for the warm welcome!  It is very refreshing to find people with a different opinion, that are civil to each other :)


I hear you Kelly, but the issue (for this Soldier)..  Once the first brother/sister in arms died, leaving is not an option.  As for the additional troops, I really dont know..  I am a SSG in the Army.  I always have my men and mission as my top priority.  If I request support, trust me, I need it.  I can only think the Gen. operates in the same way.  Regardless of political beliefes, he is a Soldier with decades of knowledge and combat experience.  I could understand if multiple military leaders are offering opinions, but I believe they are not.  Just a bunch of desk jockies deciding whats best.  It's similar to the development of the ROE.  Civilian lawyers telling our military how to fight in combat.

And, as a soldier, the general's priority is to execute the mission, not to define what that mission is. That's up to the Commander in Chief, based on the input from all his advisors. He can make recommendations but it's ultimately the responsibility of the non-military leaders of this country to determine what our mission should be in any theater.
Sure, it makes sense that more troops can't be a bad thing. If I'm getting ready for a gang fight and I have a choice of 10 members or 2 to back me up, my choice is obvious. My main focus is on the overall plan. Sending more troops is a band-aide (and effective short term) but I want people really debating our involvement, why we are there, what good will come out of it and how and when do we exit or call it a success. During the Bush years, I heard of no real strategy Isn't that the least of what our brave service men and women deserve?
Let me just point this out-----These are Bush's commando's, not Obama's. Normally, I would say listen to the boots on the ground. But, I would be hard to press to truest these to given the fact the went publically, an did not respect their commander an chief! Also,l let me remind you that Vice President Biden has already been in Iraq, Afganastan just resently to do an evalution of his own by putting his boots on the ground, an talking to every one available, an not just these two! He actually got a bigger picture than these generals was willing to give the white house. I come from a military family also, an you should know that NORMALLY the generals would be loyal to the Commander an Chief. NOT run around disagreeing with what he says or do. Thats for behind closed door, where BOTH give their over all view an the views of other so called Boots On The Ground are all taken into account, an than an only than, is a stradegy hammered out, with the President leading the charge for the way it is to go. These Generals over steped their boundries, an I fear it was for Political Purpose's, an not for the best of this country. I also fear channey may still have these Generals ear, an that is frightening in it self. As of late Channey got mighty quiet, an when he gets quiet, I fear he has something up his sleeve, an this just might be it. this may not be a point of brute force with more troops doing the trick, but a new stradegy of building up the communities over there to take care of their own area's instead, an began to draw down. We can't stay there forever, an we should not nation build for others, but give them a helping hand up to combat the terrorist themselfs at some point an time. Sense we've been there for 8 yrs, an we are giveing the most resource's that is sadly needed at home now, don't ya think it's time for a different out look on afganastan? We have to leave at some point Sua, an if we help them to build up their own force's, so we can began to draw down-------than no one lose's. We did not lose in Iraq, an we are starting to draw down. Don't ya think it's time to get out of afganastan, an let them take over their own country?

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