THE SPINE JUNE 22, 2010
Did Barack Obama ever believe that the conflict in Afghanistan was a good and "necessary war?" Well, he said so during the campaign and to the cheers of his civilian troops. But, knowing some of these troops, I thought their choruses forced and maybe just campaign tactics.
After all, the other war, the war in Iraq, was Bush's war. No argument needed. It was, by origin, a bad war, a genetically bad war.
It took the Obama administration long enough to come up with a strategy for Afghanistan but with less numbers than the strategy required. Still, it had the right general. And the launch pad for the program was also appropriate. Still, as many of the cadets listening at West Point grasped immediately, the president was giving the war with the Taliban 18 months, by which time the soldiers would begin their retreat. OK, their withdrawal. Look a year ahead to the election campaign and the fighting forces would be half home.
This is a war in which the president could never enlist his comrades. Not Move-On, certainly. Neither Nancy Pelosi nor Harry Reid. Or, for that matter, the left flanks of the Democratic party, which are in catatonic disillusion because Obama did not produce on "yes, we can," whatever that meant or was.
My own instinct, if I were Obama, would be to fire Stanley McChystal. Or, rather, instruct General Petraeus, who is his superior, to fire him. Or General Mullin, who is Petraeus' superior. And why not Secretary Gates, McChrystal's immediate civilian superior. Clean and finished. According to rank and to the great constitutional order of men at arms under civic authority.
But I am not Obama who summoned this great general before a rump high court to apologize, to explain, to extenuate, perhaps even to cavil. Whatever the outcome or the sentence, the verdict is already in. Robert Gibbs has spoken. Maybe McChrystal will be permitted back to the war theater. But what will he think? And his subordinates? I've already said that "insubordination" is serious misconduct, grounds for dismissal.
Still, if Obama doesn't dismiss the general and if I were McChrystal, I'd resign and live with my misdeeds, making of them what I will.
Clearly, there is much to make of the command posts in AfPak. Congress should be discouraged from the making.
On the other hand, if I we are going to lose in Afghanistan, we should at least know the stakes. And stop. If there is a chance at winning we should also know the rewards.
And the costs. If winning means making peace with the Taliban, as sometimes it seems both Obama and Karzai believe, the death of one more soldier would be a waste and the death of one more Afghani peasant also a waste.
It would help if we could name the enemy.