Obama’s decision to accept Gen. Stanley McChyrstal’s resignation was not unexpected. By bringing back Gen. David Petraeus, he assuages the concerns from supporters of the Afghanistan mission as to whether we are committed to victory. There are two more essential changes required.
First, McChrystal threw the curtain open on the dysfunctional and counterproductive civilian team in Afghanistan. Richard Holbrooke and Karl Eikenberry should be canned. If Petraeus had those two instead of Ambassador Crocker, it’s not clear we would have achieved as much as we have in Iraq. Congress needs to step up to the plate, assert itself, and begin hearings if the president is intent on leaving the malefactors in place.
Second, a wise reader likes to tell me, “Generals should only talk to their troops.” What a fine idea. No magazine spreads. No waxing philosophical on areas beyond their expertise. Yes, in this day and age they must testify before Congress and conduct some overseas diplomacy. But less is more, and a great deal that is said in public should be kept behind closed doors. Generals didn’t get where they are by being self-effacing or by taking direction from subordinates — so they imagine they can opine on any and all topics and win over the public, ingratiate themselves with their civilian bosses, and make an impression upon allies and foes. The chances of something going wrong are great, and the apology tour rarely undoes the damage.
So Gen. Petraeus should go win the war, Holbrooke and Eikenberry should go home, and Obama should fix the damage his own timeline has done by lifting it and making it clear that we are in this to win it. And please, generals, share your wisdom primarily with the troops or behind closed doors.