There has been some surprising but welcomed (at least by those who’d like to win in Afghanistan) opposition to firing Gen. Stanley McChrystal over his Rolling Stone interview. The Washington Post editors reel off three reasons not to accept the general’s resignation:
First, Gen. McChrystal is the architect of a crucial counterinsurgency campaign underway in southern Afghanistan — a strategy Mr. Obama approved after months of deliberation last year. … Second, whatever his reputation in Washington, Gen. McChrystal has built strong ties with the Afghan and Pakistani officials whose cooperation is vital to the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. … Most important, the inflammatory comments in the Rolling Stone article are symptomatic of a deeper dysfunction for which Gen. McChrystal is not chiefly responsible. As we pointed out on this page last week, the administration’s performance in Afghanistan has been hamstrung by continuing differences between civilian officials and military commanders that date to the debate over strategy last year. …
Mr. Obama has tolerated this feuding, with consequences that include poor coordination of military and civilian operations and deteriorating relations with Mr. Karzai. His dismissal of Gen. McChrystal would hand a victory to those in his administration who have resisted the counterinsurgency operations.
There is a fourth reason: Obama needs to shed his peevish and self-absorbed persona, to demonstrate to friends and foes that he can command a war effort, and to dispel the growing perception that he’s in over his head. He doesn’t do this by being the tough guy with the general, whom we have relied on to win the war. (And by the way, if McChrystal does quit, won’t we hear a whole lot more from him about the civilian officials who’ve been making the military’s job harder?) For a president very much concerned about his own image, maybe the most compelling argument for him to keep McChrystal is this: it’ll make Obama look good.