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An Exit Strategy?

June 23, 2010
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So we’re going to find out whether or not Stanley McChrystal’s ass gets canned today.  As I said earlier, I don’t think pink-slips are in order for the arrogant jerk stuff.  Yes, people have been fired for less, but, again, this is not the time to be removing the head of the whole operation unless of course the Administration really wants to actually chalk the whole operation.

As Peter Feaver speculates, the dissing and the getting drunk and the Biden jokes were all probably just a Powerball win for Michael Hastings, who appeared to be writing an in-depth anti-COIN piece disguised as a profile of McChrystal and struck gold when chancing upon Team America (the general’s posse) raging liquor drinks while on a layover in Paris. (As Yglesias notes, the worst impropriety may be McChrystal’s alleged love of BL Lime.  Really?  BL Lime?  Isn’t this cat supposed to be some kind of badass?)  McChrystal, of course, used extremely poor judgment in revealing all these things to Hastings, but that shouldn’t be a firing offense at this point in time unless…

Unless, you know, the Administration actually does want to scrap the entire project.  As we’re all aware, things haven’t been going well in Afghanistan.  Last week’s “discovery” of “$1 trillion” worth of untapped minerals seemed like a bailing-water-out-of-a-sinking-ship measure.  If the Administration wants to reconsider whether it’s prepared to hunker down further in Afghanistan than July of 2011, then McChrystal has provided them with a really good chance to do so.

The really serious criticisms of McChrystal actually have actually been understated, such as soldiers’ complaints about the general’s rules of engagement that put soldiers in danger and the denial of a soldier’s request to have a house torn down as an unnecessary measure to not “upset” civilians.  Also, as Blake Hounshell notes, COIN is widely regarded as a political as well as military endeavor, and either Richard Holbrooke and Karl Eikenberry are really as klutzy as some have speculated or McChrystal is just not good at the political aspects of his job (not to mention Karzai’s weird relationship with the general despite Karzai’s incessant flakiness).

I don’t think McChrystal will get the boot simply because this is, again, the most important year of the war in Afghanistan and the upcoming Kandahar offensive is the most important campaign of the war.  If the President does fire him, then I think it will be because he is reconsidering the situation and does want to change the whole operation.  If that’s the case, though, changing the whole operation may entail actually chalking the whole operation.  And I can easily see the President working his way out, playing the “we don’t have an effective strategy because we had to fire the guy who was directing all our operations and was boys with Karzai, so we don’t have a choice and we have to leave” card.  There aren’t a lot of outs when it comes to waging a counterinsurgency, and General Stanley McChrystal has just given the President one of a very few.

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