I see that fellow Ricochet-er Rob Long is passing along a report that General McChrystal "resigns." Well maybe, but maybe not. A report from a British newspaper--even one as good as The Telegraph -- is not the final word. Most obviously, just because McChrystal has or will tender his resignation, that doesn't mean that President Obama has to accept it. We will know for sure tomorrow. But as a straw in the wind, tonight on NBC News, White House reporter Chuck Todd seemed to go out of his way to emphasize that there's still a "path" for McChrystal to keep his job--presumably the Path of Maximum Groveling.
As I wrote this morning for Fox News' "Fox Forum," I don't think that McChrystal will end up leaving. Many have called this a "MacArthur Moment," as in Harry Truman vs. Douglas MacArthur, and Peter Robinson calls it a "Lincoln Test," as in, Lincoln vs. George McClellan, but I don't think that Obama is either Truman nor Lincoln. Instead, the practicalities of trying to fight a war with chaotic leadership will persuade Obama, I think, to keep McChrystal.
But one has to ask: Isn't it possible that McChrystal would be better off if he were fired? Isn't it better to be separated from a looming failure prior to the broad realization of that failure? I am old enough to remember General John Singlaub, the US commander in South Korea, who publicly differed from Jimmy Carter about the withdrawal of US troops from South Korea, and was fired, back in the late 70s. Singlaub became a hero on the right,and that was in the days when there was no conservative media echo chamber to speak of. Today, if McChrystal were cashiered by Obama, does anybody doubt that he would be a fixture on conservative media, and a much-sought speaker? But such a scenario might seem too cynical and defeatist to be plausible--and in any case, McChrystal, a gung ho guy, doesn't seem to embrace it. If he had wanted out, his apology would have been much more pro forma, much less abject. Instead, obviously he wants to keep his job--he wants to stay in command.
And so we come back to the issue of succeeding or not. McChrystal has clearly tried to emulate Gen. Petraeus' Iraq "surge" strategy in Afghanistan, but it's not working as well. And Obama has set up that mid-2011 deadline for drawing down, which just about everyone--opponents of the Afghan war as well as proponents--agrees only guarantees that the Taliban/Al Qaeda/Other forces will simply decide to wait it out. Although as the recent spurt of US/NATO casualties shows, even if the enemy is waiting us out, they are inflicting plenty of damage on us in the meantime. We are inflicting plenty of damage on them, too, but they seem to have a pretty strong support base in not only Afghanistan but also Pakistan. There's a lot of cannon fodder in those madrassahs.
And so we come back to Obama. If the news, and future news, from AfPak is this bad, he should want McChrystal to stay. Why? To soften the blow of bad news down the road. Afghanistan didn't work? How could that be, the Obamans will ask--we kept George W. Bush's top general, David Petraeus, in place at Centcom, and we picked one of his top proteges, McChrystal, to run Afghanistan? Even after such an argument, Obama wouldn't be spared the lion's share of responsibility for an Afghan debacle, but he and his spinners will be offload at least some of it on the shoulders of Petraeus, McChrystal, and the COIN-dinistas.
Such blame-shifting is by no means an ideal scenario for Obama--nor for America--but at least it's a plan for buying time. Time enough to gin up a Plan B, which might include, say, a regional or international political settlement--however fig-leafy it might be.