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The Wound McChrystal Opened

Posted on Jun 23, 2010

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal put President Barack Obama in an impossible position. That is why McChrystal had to go.

A general’s tasks involve executing policies made by the commander in chief, plotting strategy and winning wars—not playing politics in the media to get at civilian rivals inside the government.

What McChrystal did required Obama to change generals at a decisive moment in the Afghanistan conflict or risk looking weak and out of control. It’s not a choice a president should be forced into making.

But the McChrystal imbroglio also highlighted the obstacles facing Obama’s effort to find a third way between rival policy factions in his own White House.

Everyone on the president’s team, including McChrystal, said they had signed off on the Obama compromise: to give McChrystal the troops he said he needed to improve the situation but to place a clear time limit on how long the troops would stay.


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In practice, the president’s advisers continued to feud, sowing uncertainty about what the policy actually was. Those who had been against McChrystal’s proposed buildup said Obama’s declared deadline of July of next year for beginning troop withdrawals was firm. McChrystal’s backers said the deadline was flexible.

The administration was openly divided over how effectively it could work with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Unlike McChrystal, Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry and Richard C. Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, think Karzai is a hopeless and hapless leader.

Given the factional war inside the administration, Karzai himself felt perfectly free to weigh in on the controversy let loose by the incendiary let-it-all-hang-out Rolling Stone article. Karzai let it be known he saw McChrystal as “the best commander the United States has sent to Afghanistan.” The president of another country became a player inside our own country’s political deliberations.

Paradoxically, Karzai’s supportive comments underscored why McChrystal had to be relieved. One little-noted passage in Michael Hastings’ Rolling Stone article underscored McChrystal’s central problem.

“The most striking example of McChrystal’s usurpation of diplomatic policy is his handling of Karzai,” Hastings wrote. “It is McChrystal, not diplomats like Eikenberry or Holbrooke, who enjoys the best relationship with the man America is relying on to lead Afghanistan. The doctrine of counterinsurgency requires a credible government, and since Karzai is not considered credible by his own people, McChrystal has worked hard to make him so.”

A military strategy is supposed to fit the facts on the ground. But McChrystal was trying to invent an alternative reality to fit the facts to his counterinsurgency strategy, trying to turn Karzai into something he isn’t. The open split on the American side has reduced Karzai’s incentives to alter his behavior.

Then there was the breathtaking immaturity on display in the Rolling Stone piece, the kind of thing Gen. David Petraeus, his successor, can be counted on to avoid. There was also a profound contempt shown toward almost everyone outside McChrystal’s tight inner circle. What signal did McChrystal think he was sending through Hastings? Worse still would be indifference on McChrystal’s part to the potential impact of the article. The key to counterinsurgency strategy is its awareness of the effect of politics, governance and public opinion on the chances of success.

A piece of this sort was destined to undercut whatever McChrystal was trying to do, and the arrogance that came through in the article plays badly, given that McChrystal’s military strategy has not seemed to work very well so far. 

But Obama is not off the hook. On the contrary, he stuck with McChrystal, despite ample evidence that the general would go around the White House to push his own preferences. 

Moreover, Obama’s approach to Afghanistan was always a delicate balance, a Goldilocks strategy that was neither too hawkish nor too dovish: Escalate now to speed withdrawal. It was a nice idea, and maybe it can still allow us to leave a modestly improved situation behind.

The problem is that this careful equilibrium required everyone in the administration to pull together, accepting that the policy was settled and was not open to constant challenge. It required very big egos to get along. It required Karzai to change. It required Obama to have real authority over our military.

Obama asserted that authority in a statement that was gracious but firm, and he reminded his fractious team of the importance of a “unity of effort.” But he still needs to make his objectives clearer, beginning with an answer to the question: Are we serious about beginning withdrawals next July? Given what’s happened so far, we should be.

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

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By Scott, June 26, 2010 at 2:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This General is a nut case.  Four hours of sleep a day?!?  One meal a day?!? 
Nunchunks haha ?!? And this is the head of sanatarioum.  A freaking weirdo

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By janet marsh, June 25, 2010 at 5:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Inherit The Wind.  What is your definition of insubordination?  I cannot see
how the General was insubordinate.  Neither can my husband and he was
a military man in WW2.

  Tell me, what did this General say that was so bad as to be considered
insubordinate?  What did he say that was so bad?  I have read and read
everything that was attributed to him[?] or was it his aides? 

  Personally, I think that BO was jealous of this great man and had to get
rid of him.  Thin skinned oaf that he is.  I think that something sinister is
more to the point in getting rid of him.  BO’s advisors are jerks, too bad
he didn’t have some military knowledge himself or his advisors having a
bit of military knowhow.

  God help America, we are being destroyed from within and nobody notices
or cares.  kennybebt

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By Hammond Eggs, June 25, 2010 at 1:13 pm Link to this comment

E.J. Dionne is the Amanuensis of American Failure, taking down the dictation of moral midgets like Obama.  It’s worth reading his drivel to know what the shit-for-brains crowd in charge of the USA is thinking and planning for this nation.

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By Maxim, June 25, 2010 at 9:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Brussels 25th June 2010
Re: The Wound McChrystal Opened.
The fact of having a famous background as a daredevil “special forces” Commander did not mean that he should be capable of managing a complex war as the Afghan one. There is a sea-change between a “roughneck” Commander and a strategic long-term view made all the more difficult by a medley of various mostly Nato forces but within the limits of their national “caveats” and limited enthusiasm. Most of the time because their national politicians at home lacked the will to engage costly material such as attack-helicopters,heavy armour (only the Canadians have some Leopard 2A-6)and even heavy artillery. Moreover while the Americans have plenty of UAV’s there is an obvious lack of means for the French and German contingents and even, the British ones.
But also embittering the frontline soldiers is the quasi inability to find out systems capable of exploding IED from a safe distance, despite $ billion in investments: to top it all the Taliban appear to have re-discovered the usefulness of snipers increasing in numbers and efficiency i.e.40% of losses this year against 14% last year ( with old but well-maintained guns such as the vintage British Lee-Enfied still available in that region and even some Russian SVD Dragunov which both can kill at 800 meter ).
To close this hotchpotch of criticisms, I feel once more obliged to mention the absurd decision of G.W.Bush to start a second unconsidered war in Iraq without properly finishing “the job” in Afghanistan. But in our decadent democracies , who is responsible for mistakes of such magnitude and further on, held accountable with judicial consequences ?

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By Old Ed Of The Delta, June 25, 2010 at 8:58 am Link to this comment

I did a profile comparison of President Obama with General McChrystal based on the information on such sources as Wikipedia which is considered a factual source of unbiased information.

Too bad that McChrystal’s aids were quoted by RS while they were on some deserved R and R in Paris. Loose lips not only sink ships but also sinks courageous combat ready generals. 

What was said by Gen. McChrystal’s aids who were admittedly a bit in their cups did however hit the nail on the head that our civilian office holders and representatives are at best stupid and at worse incompetent in calling the shots in Afghanistan. 

My conclusion is that if I were McChrystal, I would not let Obama polish my boots.

Come 2012, Obama will be facing some stiff competition from such leaders as McChrystal notwithstanding any political party that endorses them.

If the Republicans can gain sufficient seats in the Senate this fall, then the possibility of impeaching Obama and turn him out of office may become a reality.

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By ejreed, June 25, 2010 at 8:42 am Link to this comment

According to former Colonel Wilkerson McChrystal fostered a bad leadership environment. More importantly, Obama is using the controversy to question the counter-terrorism Afghanistan strategy advocated by McChrystal.  Should we get out ASAP or continue with the counter insurgency strategy also known as COIN.

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By mmadden, June 25, 2010 at 7:56 am Link to this comment

I wonder how much money Petraeus is going to pay the insurgents to quit fighting like was done in Iraq. That was the secret of our “victory” over there. We paid $300 a month for them to quit figting. For the most part it worked but when the money runs out I wonder what is going to happen in Iraq.

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By tedmurphy41, June 25, 2010 at 5:31 am Link to this comment

The sooner that America falls in behind the UN resolutions that it has so casually ignored when it didn’t suit, the sooner that such remarks will be less likely to cause a problem.
The same applies to the skivvy to America that has become the role of the UK.

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By Incensed, June 24, 2010 at 8:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A good effort at disinformation and distraction…as if what a certain general thinks of the adminstration is relevant to anything…  Face it; the only terrorists are the people running our government.  We’re in Afghanistan to make huge profits for certain people at the taxpayers’ expense. If the war were to stop, the profits would stop. If enough of the public became disillusioned about what the war’s about, they might kick up sufficient fuss to get it ended! Obama’s job is to do whatever it takes to keep the status quo going.  The corporate-owned media’s jobs are to keep keep the public amused, misinformed, believing that they’re not quite smart enough to understand everything that’s going on (and they won’t be, as long as they believe the misinformation), and hoping that things will improve in time, if only they’re patient enough.

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By Georgieporgie, June 24, 2010 at 10:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Bush’s and their One World masters got the US into this spending spree for their useless wars. Reminds one of “1984” does it not. When will the public ever get a chance to vote for a fisically responsible government. I say never. Some day it will be one world and it will be the Chinese who own it.

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By tropicgirl, June 24, 2010 at 8:28 am Link to this comment


This is nothing but a drug-running operation in Afghanistan. MChrystal knows it, the troops know it and YOU know it.

Sleep good knowing you support the heroin destruction of our kids, and the King of False Choices.

Filth. Unamerican Filth.

Obama, the King of Crooks, put us in this impossible position. If they don’t get your kids in the military to dehumanize and destroy themselves, then they will get ‘em with the heroin.

Petreus, however, is perfectly comfortable with killing friend or foe, bribing and sneaking. But in Afghanistan he is going to have to “man-up”. Its not going to be another murderous, sneaking free-for-all for him like Iraq was.

But Obama and Betray Us will get theirs, politically speaking. It will be quite ugly, I believe.

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By knobcreekfarmer, June 24, 2010 at 7:41 am Link to this comment

Doesn’t anyone remember “Petraeus Betray Us”??  He was the Liberal
Elites enemy no. one in the Bush regime. Now he’s the answer that
everyone thinks is all the shit!?!


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By dihey, June 24, 2010 at 5:30 am Link to this comment

Mr. Dionne did it again! I quote: “Gen. Stanley McChrystal put President Barack Obama in an impossible position”.
Wrong, wrong, wrong! The truth is that President Obama put President Obama in an impossible position. There are no excuses for Mr. Obama’s dismal war policies which he brought to the presidency.
As always, Dionne kisses Obama’s you know what.

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By Inherit The Wind, June 24, 2010 at 3:50 am Link to this comment

What impossible situation?  There was only one path to take and that was instantly clear:

He had to fire the insubordinate son-of-a-bitch.

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By MeHere, June 23, 2010 at 10:19 pm Link to this comment

This writer is proof that an education is a terrible thing to waste.  Another one of
those Harvard, Oxford, Rhodes, you name it folks, whose contributions are only to
their own careers.

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By the worm, June 23, 2010 at 8:13 pm Link to this comment

Before the decision was made to send more troops into Afghanistan, McChrystal
and other top US military men met for weeks with President Obama. During
months of agonizing closed-door ‘analysis and reflection’, we’re asked to
believe neither Obama nor any General said “We’re entering an insurgency,
fewer than a dozen of our men and women speak the language, fewer than that
know anything of the culture, we’ll be going directly into citizens’ homes, farms
and villages, we’ll be heavily armed with high-tech lethal weapons, and we wont
be able to tell friend from foe. What do you think the chances are that we will
be facing continued guerilla warfare and civilian insurgency, similar to Iraq, and
that our men will continue to be placed in untenable situations in a losing
effort, similar to Iraq?”

America has ‘civilian leadership’ of the military, in part, so the military wont
make decisions in its own interests and those of America’s formidable military
industrial complex. But, instead, make decisions in the interest of the American

Obama has failed, not in Afghanistan, but in deciding to escalate, rather than
leave Afghanistan.

Obama owes the American people and the Afghan people an apology. To the
extent McChrystal was instrumental in contributing to the disastrous decision,
he, too, owes the American people and the Afghan people an apology.

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By ZEUS, June 23, 2010 at 6:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’ve yet to see, hear or read anything factual about this war that’s been going on for 8 years. It’s all vague amorphous reporting with body counts on both sides.
Even today with the dismissal of Crystal it seems like a lot of Afghan Kabuki to me and I read almost everything.

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By prosanity, June 23, 2010 at 6:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What war?  These aren’t wars, they are pre-emptive, aggressive occupations.  I like EJ, but media and journalists on the left/humane side of the equation have to stop using the word war -it’s dishonest.

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By Anarcissie, June 23, 2010 at 5:16 pm Link to this comment

I was amused by the phrase “decisive moment”.  But it’s a low, stupid sort of humor, a hair above slapstick.  Can’t Truthdig come up with better material than this?

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By Blackspeare, June 23, 2010 at 5:10 pm Link to this comment

Let me see whether I go this straight.  McChrystal resigns and is headed for a good gig in DC.  Petraeus had a great DC job and is now headed back to the desert.  Who’s being punished???

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By samosamo, June 23, 2010 at 4:55 pm Link to this comment


First off e.j. makes out that putting petraeus in charge will yield
results and win the war. Win a war on terrorism? What rubbish.
What e.j. should have started out with was the ‘sustained war on
terror’ which is so convenient in not having real targets or real
perpetrators to go after but having convenient if not ‘planted
terrorist’ to go after. Just like viet nam, war in afghanistan is not
made to be won, just sustained.

Second there is another penchant of o’s to keep up that old
idiotic insanity of hiring and rehiring people who have been tried
and tested, and for the most part having failed, in the hope of
what somehow could be construed to be a better end, but
instead to do what the elite are wanting them to do, almost
nothing that will not upset the status quo.

Hell, the u.s.a. is still in Iraq, where I understand petraeus wasn’t
that successful, screwing up miserably, we’re running a chinese
fire drill in afghanistan chasing convenient ghosts who at any
minute will be over here in america with THEIR high tech
weaponry destroying america, and what ever it is, there is surely
an american contingency in pakistan, and if hill billie hillary gets
her way along with some others, we will once again invade
another sovereign nation for its natural resources. All this fiddle
dicking around while america burns and crashes with o on the

All o has to do is wake up and bring the troops home, but that is
way too easy as the ‘men behind the curtain’ will certainly tell
you and it just won’t happen, especially from afghanistan which
for some strange reason has abdicated its ‘newly found’ cache of
mineral riches to the U.S. Bet the machinery is on the way over
to start the extraction, if it isn’t already there.

o is an aristocratic stooge doing their bidding and pulling out of
and imperial action(war) will happen when someone with the
intestinal fortitude to do so gets to become the commander in
chief, another very very long shot.

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By gerard, June 23, 2010 at 4:55 pm Link to this comment

Postscript:  The real threat behind the threat of a “runaway general” is that it shows the hidden urge latent in the military to take over the civilian government, end its “inefficiency” and “waste” and conscript everyone into a well-ordered fascist state.
All that was missing from McChrystal’s performance was a lot of broken glass (prophetic name, “Chrystal”!) and a President who finally realized the incipient danger.

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By gerard, June 23, 2010 at 4:01 pm Link to this comment

Jimnp72:  Your comment about “freeing the Afghans from their medievalism and grinding poverty and presenting them with viable alternatives, indicates the blindness of all those who persist in believing that killing people will make them “free from medievalism and grinding poverty>’
  Freeing people from medievalism and poverty means helping them not to fight with each other, to cooperate and share their resources fairly and to present them with viable alternatives such as sponsoring the long project of universal free public education and training in self-sufficiency and political empowerment.
  Afghanistan is not and has never been strong on democratic values; quite the contrary.  To think that dropping bombs on them and shooting them in the head will bring about reform and enlightenment is a crazy idea hatched in the minds of people who think they are better than their victims and therefore entitled to teach them lessons in how to order their lives.  Put yourself in Afghanis’ place and imagine how it feels. 
  On the other hand, there’s the recent conveniently unearthed possibility of our stealing their buried resources, which is dishonest and mean.

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By Tim Colman, June 23, 2010 at 3:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


We can write about Generals coming and going all we want, end games, Afghanistan’s ZERO democracy or suffragette policies. 

What stuns is spending $100 billion this year on war this year alone when the entire GDP of the country is $10 billion.

Who is nuts?  Build roads, build schools, and get out. 

Enough with the wheel of carnage.

Bill Gates made my point more succinctly the other day when he said we Americans spend $80 billion last year on technology to kill people.  You get what you pay for…

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By Jimnp72, June 23, 2010 at 3:26 pm Link to this comment

not that I’d like to go there, but what is the truth about the actual progress if any
made to free the afghans from their medievalism and grinding poverty and
presenting them with viable alternatives?

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