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McChrystal's Downfall: Who Wins, Who Loses

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
June 27, 2010
The Daily Beast


With General Stanley McChrystal removed from command in Afghanistan and General David Petraeus named to succeed him, the stunning story is disappearing from front pages—even as its most telling implications begin to seep through the cracks. I speak here of the winners and losers, and what their fate will mean for America's fate in Afghanistan.

Biggest Loser: Of course, McChrystal. Son of a general, married to the daughter of a general, himself one of the nation's most honored warriors, his illustrious career is over. He was a very good commander, struggling to balance his soldiers' safety with the protection of Afghan civilians and struggling to show quick results in a war that defies quick wins, if not victory itself. McChrystal will not find happiness in a think tank. He won't run for political office. As is apparent, he is not a politician. He'll be appointed to business boards, but he won't enjoy it. He is the ultimate warrior with no more wars to fight. He knows he has no one to blame but himself. Now, we can only salute him for his sterling service.

Second Biggest Loser: Vice President Joe Biden. Alas, one can see that he is not held in high esteem by the military. Biden, “bite me,” indeed. The remark by one of McChrystal's colonels was cutting, stupid, and unfair. But it does reflect the perceptions of the colonels and generals, not really about the man himself, but about his policy views. He has argued against the present counterinsurgency strategy—establishing security with U.S. arms, training Afghan forces, and building the Afghan nation up from scratch. He thinks this is unrealistic, and he's right—or at least right that it will take another decade or more, if it's possible at all. Instead, he argues for a counter-terrorism approach—leaving aside the clear, hold, build, and just going directly after al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters. The military thinks this is unrealistic, like trying to punch the wind. And so, they began trashing the Vice President whose thinking is actually far more sophisticated than portrayed. In any event, the military hit him, and no one in the White House bothered to defend him.

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