Firing McChrystal is Not Enough

It’s not enough to fire General McChrystal for his latest public act of insubordination. It’s time to fire the entire Afghanistan strategy. How can Congress possibly appropriate an additional $33 billion to a General who does not believe in the mission, the Commander-in-Chief or the administration officials he so obviously holds in contempt? The answer is obvious: it can’t.

There are two possible explanations for this latest McChrystal rip at the Obama administration in the soon-to-be-released issue of Rolling Stone: either he is out of control, cracking under the pressure of a failure with his name all over it, or he has decided he needs to engage in a new round of media manipulation to weaken the hands of the administration figures he disdains and blames for setbacks to his strategy. Either way, the President needs to fire McChrystal now. But he also needs to recognize that this latest debacle is further evidence that it is time to fundamentally change course. If he is unwilling to do so, Congress needs to say “no” to the administration’s $33 billion Supplemental Appropriation request when it hits the floor of the House this week or next.

McChrystal’s closest advisors speak openly in the article that they do not believe the war in Afghanistan is winnable. Here is how McChrystal’s Chief of Operations told Rolling Stone‘s Michael Hastings that the war in Afghanistan is going to end: “‘It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win’ said Major General Bill Mayville, ‘This is going to end in an argument.'”  

As Hastings writes: “So far, counterinsurgency has succeeded only in creating a never-ending demand for the primary product supplied by the military: perpetual war.” And that is what key figures in the military have in mind, notwithstanding the president’s commitment to begin withdrawing US troops in July of next year. According to a senior military official in Kabul: “There is a possibility that we could ask for another surge of US forces next summer if we see success here.”

Another surge? Without a clear exit strategy from Afghanistan – and 96 Members of Congress are demanding one by co-sponsoring legislation sponsored by Jim McGovern in the House – senior military leaders are conducting operations in Afghanistan as if escalation, not withdrawal, could very well be in the cards. And why not? McChrystal backed the administration down before, why not again?

McChrystal began his campaign of public pressure on the Obama administration by leaking his demand for 40,000 additional troops to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post when President Obama was reviewing his war policy. Then there was the public repudiation of Vice President Biden and his preferred strategy at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. When asked if he could support a presidential decision to rely on a counterterrorism approach to defeating al Qaeda in Afghanistan, as Vice President Biden advocated, McChrystal replied “The short, glib answer is no.”

McChrystal publicly threatened insubordination if the Obama administration did not toe the line and give him exactly what he was demanding. It worked: he not only kept his job, he got everything that he wanted.

Where has McChrystal’s strategy led us? What he once described as a “model” operation in Marja, General McChrystal now describes as “a bleeding ulcer.” The Pentagon’s latest quarterly report to Congress on the war confirms that the insurgency in Afghanistan is expanding its operations and increasing in sophistication. Efforts to strengthen the Afghan National Army have been stymied by “high attrition and low retention” of recruits. Meanwhile, according to the Pentagon report, the insurgency has a steady and growing supply of fighters: “A ready supply of recruits is drawn from a frustrated population where insurgents exploit poverty, tribal friction and a lack of governance to grow their ranks.”

McChrystal has become increasingly worried about the consequences of Americans paying attention to the failing war. A Senior Advisor to McChrystal told Rolling Stone, “If Americans pulled back and started paying attention to this war, it would become even less popular.”


Congress needs to pay attention. They can start by heeding the advice of Andrew Wilder of Tufts University, who told Hastings that handing over the cash McChrystal wants for his failing operation in Afghanistan will only make things worse: “Throwing money at the problem only exacerbates the problem.”  

It’s time to stop the manipulation, the insubordination and the military dreams of endless war in Afghanistan. Fire McChrystal and then fire the strategy.