Evaluating White House-Military Split Over Afghanistan

This morning's leaked report raise questions over civil-military relations

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There are many implications to top Afghanistan General McChrystal's leaked report telling President Obama he needs a massive troop increase or risks failure, but perhaps the most immediate is the possibility of a rift between the White House and military. Military experts disagree over whether the report indicates an already-deep rift, or is an example of typical back-and-forth, but all agree that this report and how Obama responds could have serious implications for civil-military relations in Afghanistan and beyond.

  • A 'Defining Moment'  Peter Feaver predicted this would become "the defining moment in civil-military relations under President Obama's watch." Feaver said the leak demonstrates civil-military tensions have bubbled into the public sphere, but criticized both the leaker and its target, Obama. "You cannot swing a dead cat in Washington without meeting someone who was briefed on at least part of the McChrystal assessment, and virtually every one of those folks is mystified as to why the White House has not responded as of yet," Feaver wrote. "The White House will have to respond now, but I stand by my first point: leaks like this make it harder to for the Commander-in-Chief to do deliberate national security planning."
  • Tension Fears Are Over-hyped  Marc Lynch downplayed drama surrounding the report. "It would be a shame if this turns into an 'Obama vs the Generals' narrative, as some clearly hope," Lynch wrote. "While we're all on edge over this important policy decision, it seems to me that Obama's doing what he's supposed to do: asking the big questions about strategy and the wider set of American interests and resource commitments, while taking into account the predictable requests for more resources from the field commander. And McChrystal is doing what he's supposed to do: carefully assess the assignment he's been given and ask for the resources he thinks he needs to do the job."
  • Could McChrystal Resign?  Guardian columnist Simon Tisdall warned that ignoring McChrystal's requests could have disastrous political implications. "[McChrystal's] view is in line with that of Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, who has repeatedly warned of an urgent need to address a 'deteriorating' situation. If Obama turns refuses to heed such strongly stated advice, one or both men feel obliged to resign," Tisall wrote. "It would inevitably raise questions about his fitness as commander-in-chief and might exacerbate other White House-Pentagon tensions, such as those over Obama's plan to slash the US nuclear stockpile."
  • Resignation Talk Premature but Telling  Michael Crowley cited a report by Nancy Youssef that McChrystal could resign, but he was skeptical. "Talk like this sounds awfully premature; even if Obama holds back on the troops, I'd be astonished to see McChrystal actually leave," Crowley wrote. "But the fact that presumably credible military men--Youssef is a solid reporter with good sources--are talking this way is awfully revealing."
  • Conflict Will Get Worse  Rich Lowry predicted escalating tension over the coming weeks. "The military thinks the White House might want to throw McChrystal under the bus; the White House thinks the military is pushing Obama too hard on troop levels," he wrote. "The next few weeks will be a fraught period for civil-military relations."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.