The Obama, McChrystal Set-Up

By now everyone knows the story, or at least they think they do. A careless, loose-lipped general’s staff celebrates a little too much one evening at the bar. Listening in on their unguarded comments is Rolling Stone Magazine reporter Michael Hastings who has practically been embedded with the general’s staff. They treat him as though he were one of their own, not as they should have – as a member of the news media drooling for an opportunity to write an article betraying their confidence and the general they love.

Remember, all had not been going well in Afghanistan for quite some time; it had been a war of false starts, stops and confusion. Some say President Karzai was too corrupt to work along side U. S. Forces as an ally. But corruption at the top level of the Afghan government has always been the norm, though, so what’s the big deal with Karzai’s being corrupt? And why are people acting like Karzai’s corruption is something new or special for Afghanistan?

Pragmatically the people of Afghanistan have three alternatives: 1) they can side with the Taliban, believing that in the long run the Americans and their allies will eventually fade away and the Taliban will once again rule Afghanistan, 2) they can support the Americans and their allies in hopes that the Taliban will be defeated and that the Karzai government will turn out to be less corrupt than the Taliban, or 3) they can realize that their future doesn’t have to be dependent on either the Taliban or the U.S. and its allies, that to win they need only take charge of their own government and their own future.

The beginning of the push to clear Afghanistan of Taliban influence was to have started weeks ago with the city of Marja. The operational plan had the blessing of the White House, Obama’s national security staff, Secretary of Defense Gates and General Petraeus. Yet one of General McChrystal’s final acts before the Rolling Stone article was published was to postpone the Marja operation until autumn. Some believe it was because the people of Marja were not quite ready for the offensive to begin. I’d like to suggest a different possibility, though.

What if the real reason the Marja operation was delayed was because General McChrystal had come to the conclusion that the war in Afghanistan was unwinable so long as Obama was Commander-in-Chief. What if McChrystal expected his forces to get mired down in Marja (and other places in Afghanistan) because he believed that President Obama did not have the guts to do what it takes to win the war? Perhaps he suspected that Obama would do his usual side step, blame, and scapegoat routine and ultimately try to wrap the Afghan loss around McChrystal’s own neck. Maybe McChrystal had no intention of seeing his military career end in disgrace and failure, of being known forever as the General who had lost the Afghan War.

So what if McChrystal had laid a trap for Michael Hastings, Rolling Stone Magazine, the Pentagon, and President Obama and they had stepped right into it? What if they had simply “been had” by Gen. McChrystal who was not willing to play the stiff upper lip role assigned to him in this Afghan tragedy and figured the best way to historically save his own reputation was to get himself fired? What if Obama had glibly walked into the trap and fired McChrystal not suspecting that that was exactly what McChrystal wanted him to do?

Nothing gives a writer and his news outlet a greater pleasure than being able to play Judas — to write and publish that “tell-all” article about what had been secret, they thought, until they discovered it. Knowing this, perhaps Hastings was led to think that he had overheard, by mistake, McChrystal’s staff disparage the Commander-in-Chief and his national security team.

It would never have dawned on Hastings and Rolling Stone that they were being used or “set-up,” of course; that the insulting characterizations of Obama and his staff were not dished out because of frustration, or the consumption of  too much alcohol, but because McChrystal was deliberately leaking to them.

I may be wrong, but my gut feeling is that General McChrystal is much too smart to allow himself to be tripped up by a Hastings.