You wouldn’t expect that putting General David Petraeus in charge of anything would be a mistake. He’s quite possibly the greatest military mind in a generation and certainly one of the era’s most brilliant leaders, but President Obama made a mistake on Wednesday by handing the reins in Afghanistan over to the architect of success in Iraq.
Putting Petraeus in charge wasn’t really the mistake, and his expertise will soften the blow of the president’s true misstep — accepting the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal.
McChrystal was pegged as “The Runaway General” by a freelance writer in the latest issue of Rolling Stone. The author was granted access to the general and his inner circle and quoted the team and the commander saying some pretty negative things about many of the American civilian leaders involved in the conflict in Afghanistan.
Most of what was said in the article attacked the individuals’ personalities and skills rather than the overall mission. Long story short, McChrystal and his team don’t think the civilians in charge are doing a very good job and said so in a disrespectful way.
No one will fancy McChrystal tactful and he deserves that criticism, but he shouldn’t have been relieved of his command. He wasn’t being insubordinate — he was being a loudmouth jerk.
The president’s move was more Jefferson Davis than Abraham Lincoln. He fired someone who he has a personal problem with, not someone who was doing a bad job. Making him come to the White House to apologize was enough to show his authority. Actually showing him the door displayed a lack of leadership that made the president look small.
He should have asked him to explain himself, shake his head and send him straight back to Afghanistan to win. The president should have showed he valued usefulness above all else. Lincoln kept the best generals and fired the worst ones.
Davis, on the other hand, fired people for petty reasons and personal revenge. It may seem like a good idea to have a group of loyal lieutenants, but it also reduces the number of truly competent people you have fighting for your cause.
This mistake won’t be as costly because he replaced him with Petraeus. But this move shows that the president fails another test of his executive prowess.
With such a high profile job, the president needs to take attacks less personally. He fights back whenever anyone goes after him, rather than truly being above the fray. It was a skill he used effectively during the campaign but has failed to do so when the pressure is on.
McChrystal was wrong to attack his superiors in the press, but he shouldn’t have been fired. If you don’t agree, consider this. Keith Olberman, who has recently attacked the president from the left, agrees with this columnist, who often hits the commander-in-chief from the right.
He would have owned the political aftermath. He would have looked like a leader. I was literally ready to write this column in support of his wise decision to let McChrystal stay, yet he failed to do so.
It was his moment to be Lincoln. He may never have another.