Listening To The Generals

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on October 4, 2009

It cannot be emphasized enough that nowadays, the Obama Administration is committing the very same policy sins critics accused the Bush Administration of committing; failing to listen closely and respectfully to the advice of the military brass. Just examine what National Security Adviser James Jones said today:

In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” with John King, Jones said that the current U.S. force there is “robust.” That comment contradicts the top U.S. commander in the field, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who has waged an unusually public campaign for more boots on the ground in Afghanistan, warning that the mission there could fail without them.

President Barack Obama met privately with McChrystal for 25 minutes aboard Air Force One in Europe on Friday. Asked on CBS’s Face the Nation what happened during the session, Jones said, “the two had a good meeting and it was a good opportunity for them to get to know each other a little bit better.” And, he said, “I’m sure they exchanged very direct views.”

I suppose that it is nice the President and the General got to meet, given the fact that the General has gotten so little of the President’s time to date. But really, 25 minutes ain’t a lot of time; meetings between the President of the United States and his commanding general in Afghanistan really ought to last substantially longer than the time allotted for a sitcom. And what’s more, the meeting appears to have done nothing whatsoever to convince the principals of the Obama Administration to finally bite the bullet and commit more troops to the fight in Afghanistan.

In September, the Washington Post obtained and published a candid 66-page report by Gen. McChrystal assessing the deteriorating situation American forces face in Afghanistan. And in a speech in London last week, McChrystal argued that any effort to scale down the war in Afghanistan would be misguided. Vice President Joe Biden is one of the most visible proponents of scaling back the U.S. footprint in the country.

In the interview Sunday, however, Jones said that the solution to problems in Afghanistan is “much more complex than just about ‘X’ more troops.”

Asked by CNN’s King if he thought McChrystal’s overt lobbying on the troop number was “unseemly,” Jones offered a soft rebuke of the general:

“Ideally, it’s best for military advice to come up through the chain of command,” Jones said. The president should be presented with options, not just one “fait accompli,” Jones told CBS moderator Bob Schieffer.

Recall that when generals publicly dissented during the Bush Administration, they were lauded as patriots and heroes. When the same thing happens during the Obama Administration, rebukes are issued. Anyone can notice the double-standard.

And then, of course, there is this:

But asked whether McChrystal could – or would – stay on as the top commander if President Obama refuses his request of more soldiers, Jones demurred, saying “I should not prejudge what General McChrystal will do or not do.”

That sets up a potentially politically disastrous scenario for the White House. If Obama were to decide not to send in additional troops, a dramatic resignation by McChrystal would represent an embarrassing rebuke of the President’s leadership.

McChrystal was confirmed for his present post on June 10th of this year. Now, we are suddenly talking about his potential resignation–all because the Obama Administration refuses to recognize reality and accept the need for more troops in Afghanistan. And what’s more; the National Security Adviser appears to have a completely blasé attitude about the issue.

Alarm bells should be ringing at this point. If they are not, consider the words of former Marine General Anthony Zinni, who used to be celebrated by port-side bloggers whenever he dissented from the views of the Bush Administration (which was often):

The former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Anthony Zinni, warned that the deliberations over whether to send additional troops to Afghanistan – as many as 40,000, as suggested by General Stanley McChrystal – should not go on too much longer, lest the debate be viewed as indecision or weakness.

On CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, Zinni said it was positive to have a strategic debate and to take all opinions into account. “But I think we have to be careful how long this goes on,” he told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer. “It could be seen not only out there in the region but our allies, even [by] the enemy, as being indecisive, unable to make a decision.”

He questioned why the White House is questioning the advice of their commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal who made the request for additional troops.

“We have a general out there who is probably the best qualified we could have that’s telling us what we need on the ground to have the security space and the time to get those non-military things done,” Zinni said. “I just don’t understand why we’re questioning that judgment at this point.

“I hope this doesn’t go on much longer.”

I guess Anthony Zinni can be considered just another general the Obama Administration doesn’t listen to.

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