I don’t care that Gen. McChrystal and his aides got drunk and talked smack. I care that they were dumb enough to do so on the record with a reporter, and I care that McChrystal is behind schedule on in implementing his plan to win in Afghanistan. Neither speaks to his competence, or his staff’s competence.
It’s disappointing that it’s easier to fire someone for doing something boneheaded but inconsequential than to screw up professionally.
Look, McChrystal and Vice President Biden were on opposite ends of an internal administration debate about Afghanistan last year. McChrystal wanted lotsa troops and to engage work on societal infrastructure, cutting off oxygen to the Taliban and al Qaeda, so we could then declare victory and go home. Biden wanted to kill a bunch of Taliban and al Qaeda and then declare victory.
McChrystal won the fight, so we sent more troops and are trying to win hearts and minds, etc. Not being a military expert, and not having had the advantage of getting to dial up every military expert in the world to pick his or her brains, I won’t second-guess the decision President Obama reached after extensive consultations.
But this plan is McChrystal’s baby, and failures and retrenchments in Marja and elsewhere in Afghanistan suggest that he was overly optimistic. Since he proposed and defended that plan, his future should rightly be tied to its success. If Biden was right, and McChrystal was wrong, McChrystal should get canned, ideally replaced by someone Biden agrees with.
McChrystal’s future should not be tied to the question of whether or not his aide made a stupid comment: “Biden? Did you say: Bite me?” Drunk brats will do that, and if Biden was really as wrong as McChrystal and his aides seem to think, a bit of derision might even be justified (though not proper within a military chain of command).
Plus, firing him for being wrong about Afghanistan would let us have a useful national discussion about what we expect from the Afghan war, instead of a debate about how free senior military aides should be to talk trash on a bus across Europe.