July 2, 2010
Obama Let the Immediate Drive Out the Important in the McChrystal AffairBy Ed Timperlake
When President Obama replaced General McChrystal with the "brilliant" choice of David Petraeus, he created a critical job vacancy, technically demoting the Commanding General of Central Command (CENTCOM).
Now, with the increasing probability of war in the Middle East between Israel and Iran, a very important Combat Command will have to wait for the Senate Confirmation of a yet-to-be-selected replacement as Commanding General.
So before they start building Styrofoam Greek columns to enshrine President Obama's Lincoln/McClellan or Truman/MacArthur moment, all Americans must recognize that a much bigger and more dangerous issue is in play.
Revealing a significant consequence of their total myopic focus on Afghanistan, the administration's National Security Team demonstrated that they could only work sequentially. The evidence is the fact that the president's rapid announcement relieving General McCrystal makes it very obvious that they were driven by a 24-hour PR inbox focus, and in doing so, they left a significant problem leaderless.
With the president's White House announcement on General McChrystal, it can be justifiably argued that the press has determined the immediate agenda for our National Command Authority. History will show conclusively that Rolling Stone Magazine set the agenda on what the NSC determined was the most important problem needing immediate presidential attention.
The reporter was given access, and he did his job very well because he is a good writer. But a close read indicates that evidence of a firing offense-worthy quote by General McCrystal is just not present. Yet even if the president felt the need to act, which is his right as Commander-in-Chief, the consequences of his immediate action were not thought through completely.
Those cheering President Obama's decisiveness in relieving General McCrystal missed a much bigger picture: the very real possibility of a coming military clash over Iran's quest for nukes.
However, to be fair, on a troop level, there is one area in which General Petraeus can make a real difference -- the Afghanistan Rules of Engagement (ROE) -- so his transfer on that level is a very good event.
The president stressed that his relieving General McChrystal wasn't personal, but it probably was, because his National Security team is notoriously thin-skinned. Additionally, the president also stressed that the strategy and tactics were not going to change. Although with a fresh look by General Petraeus, the restraint on firepower that has proven to be deadly to U.S. and Allied troops under the current ROE might quickly change.
The current Afghanistan ROE stresses significant restraint on the employment of air power, artillery, and other ground tactics in order to -- excuse the cliché -- win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. However, General Petraeus, an extremely capable officer, is smart enough to recognize that restrictive ROE might wind up ultimately losing the hearts and minds of U.S. families, especially those with loved ones in combat.
But it should be remembered that the chain of command -- from General Patreaus, Commanding General of CENTCOM, to Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen, then Secretary of Defense Gates, and finally General Jim Jones, Director National Security Council and the Commander-in-Chief President Obama -- all signed off on the restrictive restraints.
But independent of the Afghanistan ROE debate, the harsh and unforgiving reality is that after relieving General McChrystal, the president and his team created a new and much more important problem by racing to solve their immediate PR issue.
An extremely deadly combat confrontation may be coming soon, with a world-altering, historic military clash. There are numerous current, worldwide, credible reports of military preparations indicating a major combat engagement brewing between Israel and Iran.
If the Israeli Air Force flies into combat, how the U.S., People's Republic of China, Russia, and even North Korea factor in is anyone's guess. CENTCOM is now without a confirmed Commanding Admiral or General (with a name not even announced) and has one the most important missions in America's national security posture.
CENTCOM must always be ready to report and execute U.S. and allied actions needed to quickly and decisively address how the entire Arab and Islamic world will react to an IDF/Iran confrontation and the consequences for the world's oil supply.
So while the president and his team were focusing on a magazine article, the CENTCOM Theater, with responsibilities for the entire Middle East -- not just Afghanistan -- is really beginning to heat up, and events can spin out of control very fast.
It is a failure of leadership that the president and his team did not take all this into account before acting on just the General McCrystal problem. Quite possibly, like the delayed response to the U.S. Gulf oil disaster, the C.G. CENTCOM selection issue could fester while a major war in the Middle East is reaching a boiling point
Not a very impressive moment in American history, and the entire affair shows very shallow and dangerous strategic thinking and planning on the part of President Obama and his National Security team.