Obama’s Announcement on McChrystal Makes the Best of a Very Bad Situation

President Obama clearly had little choice but to accept Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s resignation, and he did a good job explaining why when he made the announcement:

The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system. And it erodes the trust that’s necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan. …

It is also true that our democracy depends upon institutions that are stronger than individuals. That includes strict adherence to the military chain of command, and respect for civilian control over that chain of command. And that’s why, as Commander-in-Chief, I believe this decision is necessary to hold ourselves accountable to standards that are at the core of our democracy.

Having been a corporate speechwriter, I tend to look at events through the prism of prepared remarks, and I was particularly impressed by Obama’s Rose Garden announcement.  His praise of McChrystal’s past service went far beyond the usual perfunctory reference to “a long and distinguished career”:

Over the last nine years, with America fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has earned a reputation as one of our nation’s finest soldiers. That reputation is founded upon his extraordinary dedication, his deep intelligence, and his love of country. I relied on his service, particularly in helping to design and lead our new strategy in Afghanistan. So all Americans should be grateful for General McChrystal’s remarkable career in uniform. … Indeed, it saddens me to lose the service of a soldier who I’ve come to respect and admire.

He emphasized that his nomination of  General David Petraeus represents a change in leadership, but not in strategy:

We will not tolerate a safe haven for terrorists who want to destroy Afghan security from within, and launch attacks against innocent men, women, and children in our country and around the world.

So make no mistake: We have a clear goal. We are going to break the Taliban’s momentum. We are going to build Afghan capacity. We are going to relentlessly apply pressure on al Qaeda and its leadership, strengthening the ability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to do the same…. this mission is fundamental to the ability of free people to live in peace and security in the 21st century.

(I’d give that section about a B-plus — I’d prefer to have had more explicit acknowledgment that the enemy we face is broader than just the Taliban and al Qaeda.  But he’s never acknowledged that before, and he certainly wasn’t going to break new ground in the context of firing a top general.  The last sentence above at least hints at a global struggle.)

Leave it to Victor Davis Hanson to nail the meaning of the Petraeus nomination:

A final note: It is one of ironies of our present warped climate that Petraeus will face far less criticism from the media and politicians than during 2007–8 (there will be no more “General Betray Us” ads or “suspension of disbelief” ridicule), because his success this time will reflect well on Obama rather than George Bush. It is a further irony that Obama is surging with Petraeus despite not long ago declaring that such a strategy and such a commander were failures in Iraq. And it is an even further irony that he is now rightly calling for “common purpose” when — again not long ago, at a critical juncture in Iraq — Obama himself, for partisan purposes on the campaign trail, had no interest in the common purpose of military success in Iraq.

I share the gratitude Obama described for General McChrystal’s service.  But what the hell was he thinking giving access to a reporter for Rolling Stone magazine?  The threshold decision to participate in a story for an anti-establishment icon was an even bigger lapse of judgment than anything McChrystal or his aides said.