General McChrystal Stuck in the Middle of Afghan Debate

What does General McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, really believe?

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Ever since Bob Woodward reported that General McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, had warned that he needed a massive troop increase or risked "mission failure," McChrystal has been dragged into the center of partisan conflict. He inspired debate over an Afghanistan surge, a White House-military split, and Obama's make-or-break moment.

On Thursday, McChrystal discussed Afghanistan strategy in London, an event that drew wide discussion for its implications on war policy and his relationship with the White House. McChrystal's position has been appropriated by both anti-war liberals and hawkish conservatives claiming the general's words validate their own stance on Afghanistan. What does it mean when a general becomes politicized? What does McChrystal really believe, anyway?

  • McChrystal Worldview Lacks Nuance  Andrew Sullivan, though supportive of McChrystal, is skeptical about his all-or-nothing strategy. "I worry that his analysis - 'all in or all out' - is not quite right. I've relied on this formula myself in the past, but every time I follow through in my head the full consequences of either path, I end up feeling deeply uncomfortable," he wrote. "The election in Afghanistan is unresolved, with serious and credible allegations of fraud, and the possibility of a run-off or any number of possible unforeseen developments. Again, we do not know the outcome of that."
  • McChrystal Shouldn't Be Political Figure  Marc Lynch laments the politicization of generals, which he called a relic of the Bush era. "McChrystal public lobbying [is] dangerous [and] unhealthy; natural extension of role of generals in Bush years, bad for democracy even if he's right," he wrote, adding, "Seriously, McChrystal airing his views on troops in a public event in a foreign capital.. what was he thinking?"
  • McChrystal Getting Spun for Political Purposes  Spencer Ackerman slams those framing McChrystal's statements as conflicts with Obama, calling out both Republicans and Democrats. "McChrystal loudly and clearly defended Obama’s strategy review. Like a lot. When questioners asked if Obama needed to make a decision on Afghanistan strategy nownownow, McChrystal replied with statements like, 'Sir, I don’t think we have the luxury of going so fast we make the wrong decision,'" he wrote. Ackerman broke it down:
    Military command is not the role for spoiled children who stamp their feet when they don’t get all the toys they want. It’s a responsibility for professionals like McChrystal who understand that they work for elected leaders who have to take a broader national strategy into consideration.
    This is a strange place for the politics of national security. The minority party is hoping that McChrystal will somehow decide that it’s in his interest to throw his chips in with a powerless party rather than exercise the responsibilities of his command and cultivate a constructive relationship with both parties. [...] And for its part, there are even some on the progressive side who misinterpret recent McChrystal interviews to fit into some desired insubordination narrative, whereby Obama — and by extension, the progressive movement — is absolved of responsibility for the war because of the nefarious machinations of a revanchist military. None of this is remotely true.
  • Attention on McChrystal Harms Military, Obama  Michael Cohen decries the media spotlight on the general "I don't have a problem with General McChrystal expressing his views even when I think he is wrong. And I wouldn't feel comfortable accusing him of explicitly leaking his strategic review to force the president's hands," he wrote. "But somebody leaked it; and some folks have been leaking some variation of McChrystal's argument for the past several months - and that puts undue pressure on the president to follow a particular course in Afghanistan. And it's coming from an institution that is nominally supposed to be above such public intervention in policy discussions."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.