I feel I should say something, so I will. Being me, of course, what I say will be discursive.
Re McChrystal: An excellent general who didn’t hit it off with Obama from the git-go (blame lies, I believe, with Obama), and who failed utterly in the diplomatic discretion category — something that’s true whether you regard the revelations in Rolling Stone as big deals or little ones. Was the latter a firing offense? I don’t know. It depends on how the Commander in Chief chooses to handle it. Which leads me to Obama….
Re Obama: As I noted earlier, Obama is either apathetic or agitated. One of the things about which he’s never been sufficiently agitated is the war in Afghanistan. Sure, he didn’t pull out immediately, but his initial decisions to announce a withdrawal time table and to refuse to meet with McChrystal until McChrystal was forced to use the media against Obama (something that probably created a bad precedent in terms of McChrystal’s ideas about using the military to achieve his goals) show that he never gave a flying whatsit about American troops trying to win against Muslim jihadists.
On the other side of the scale, the things that do agitate Obama include the Joos; attempts to stop potential new Democratic party voters from sneaky in over the border and sparking crime waves; and offenses to his dignity. McChrystal committed the latter crime. Obama could have glossed the whole thing over, downplaying McChrystal’s errors (as he’s done with every one of his other appointees) or he could have done what he did, which is to fire McChrystal for having hurt his feelings. The only way to come out smelling like a rose from letting his ego lead was for Obama to have appointed someone better than McChrystal. Which leads me to Petraeus….
Re Petraeus: When Obama was a Senator, he denigrated Petraeus’ task and, by his behavior, Petraeus himself. Petraeus, however, is the real deal when it comes to counterinsurgency, and I can’t think of a better person to try his hand at Afghanistan. Peter Wehner spells out Petraeus’ virtues:
General Petraeus is the man who, more than any other single individual, turned around the war in Iraq. It was a nation on the brink of civil war when he was named commanding general there — and today it is a nation on the mend. That is the result of many hands and many hearts — but no single individual is more responsible for what happened in Iraq than Petraeus. In addition, General Petraeus literally wrote the book on counterinsurgency, having authored the Army’s manual on the subject. Petraeus, then, is both the intellectual architect of our COIN strategy and its best practitioner.
Beyond that, Petraeus — like McChrystal before him — has the confidence of President Karzai, which U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and National Security Adviser Jim Jones (among others) do not. He understands, unlike others in the Obama White House, that the way to deal with someone like Karzai is to support him in public and make demands of him in private. Nouri al-Maliki was no walk on the beach, either; but Petraeus, along with Ambassador Ryan Crocker, dealt with him extremely skillfully, holding him close while moving him along the right path.
What is also significant is that Petraeus has the confidence of our troops because of what he has achieved. He is not only a respected figure; he is very nearly legendary among them. The troops in Afghanistan will treat him as college basketball players would treat Mike Krzyzewski, if he took over another basketball program. There is instant trust, instant credibility, and instant confidence. And that matters.
I wish Petraeus every bit of luck available to him. Combine that luck with his skills and intellect, apply all those to the best military in the world, and there might be a good outcome here (including Obama being able to back down from his withdrawal timetable while still saving face).
Conclusion: Obama first seeded the lemons, starting with his long-ago refusal to take either General McChrystal or the Afghanistan war serious. He harvested the lemons when he elected to let his ego lead in what could have been a down-played, and therefore negligible, situation. And he managed to create lemonade by replace McChrystal with only the best general out there. Let’s hope the best general chews up Afghanistan, rather than vice versa.
(Just FYI, The Anchoress has a stellar round-up of responses to the whole saga.)
UPDATE: Bruce Kesler, who understands more about what’s going on than I ever could, is pleased okay with Petraeus’ appointment, but would have preferred General Mattis. Blackfive thinks the timing of this whole thing is more than a little suspicious. (The first story will make you happy sanguine; the second, angry.)
UPDATE II: Was Obama just trying to keep Petraeus out of the 2012 race? I doubt it. For one thing, that’s two years ahead, and a lot can change between now and then. For another thing, I have it on good authority that Petraeus is saying right now, with a straight face, that he’s not running. If this is preemptive action, it’s really preemptive. Sometimes a cigar is just a smoke.
My sense is that Petraeus genuinely doesn’t want to run. It’s a lousy job, and Petraeus isn’t an egotist. He is, however, a patriot. If he feels that America truly needs his unique skills, Afghanistan will be the smallest part of the U.S.’s problems, and he’ll run regardless.