The general's staff is a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs. There's a former head of British Special Forces, two Navy Seals, an Afghan Special Forces commando, a lawyer, two fighter pilots and at least two dozen combat veterans and counterinsurgency experts. They jokingly refer to themselves as Team America, taking the name from the South Park-esque sendup of military cluelessness, and they pride themselves on their can-do attitude and their disdain for authority. After arriving in Kabul last summer, Team America set about changing the culture of the International Security Assistance Force, as the NATO-led mission is known. (U.S. soldiers had taken to deriding ISAF as short for "I Suck at Fighting" or "In Sandals and Flip-Flops.") McChrystal banned alcohol on base, kicked out Burger King and other symbols of American excess, expanded the morning briefing to include thousands of officers and refashioned the command center into a Situational Awareness Room, a free-flowing information hub modeled after Mayor Mike Bloomberg's offices in New York. He also set a manic pace for his staff, becoming legendary for sleeping four hours a night, running seven miles each morning, and eating one meal a day. (In the month I spend around the general, I witness him eating only once.) It's a kind of superhuman narrative that has built up around him, a staple in almost every media profile, as if the ability to go without sleep and food translates into the possibility of a man single-handedly winning the war.That's one of the few passages I can quote without working blue. You should definitely read the whole thing, but several things are quite clear.
- McChrystal is pretty sure of himself. He has to be, considering what an impossible job he seems to have. He's also amazingly dismissive of his boss.
- Then again, he's pretty much dismissive of anyone who would stand in judgment of his efforts or his mission. While that single-mindedness is certainly desirable when your mission includes killing some of the worst bad guys extant, it runs afoul of our history and our traditions in any number of ways, most importantly that our military remains in civilian control.
- McChrystal has been summoned to Washington to meet his boss. While many of us on the starboard side of the blogosphere tend to be pretty dismissive of Barack Obama, especially in his role as Commander in Chief, he remains the CIC. And while President Obama needs the benefit and counsel of generals who understand the many, many things he does not understand, he does not need loose cannons who shoot off their mouths to Rolling Stone magazine. Gen. McChrystal has put his boss in a very difficult position and I don't see any good solution for Obama other than relieving this general of his command.
- The problem with ashcanning McChrystal is evident, though: there's really not an obvious candidate to take over the job. Most likely Obama would need to have David Petraeus step away from his current role running CENTCOM. He's the one figure in the Pentagon structure who would bring instant credibility to the effort. My guess is that Petraeus would agree to this if Obama asked him to take over. It's not desirable to change commanders in the middle of an exceptionally complicated military campaign, but what else do you do?