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Eric Chen

Professor Nacos,

You make a valid point regarding American generals speaking out of turn - in my generation, I seem to recall GEN Wesley Clark being relieved of command for publicly opposing President Clinton's decisions regarding the Balkans. But I also believe a large part of the criticism you direct to GEN McChrystal in this post is fairly redirected to his boss. As I've said before on your blog, I understand presidential decision-making for Afghanistan is hard; in comparison, the risk/reward and cost/benefit assessments for Iraq were much more obvious. However, this particular controversy can be blamed on Obama's conflicting behavior on Afghanistan, which has risked making an already unreasonable job in Afghanistan more difficult and setting up GEN McChrystal for failure - and not just for media question/answer sessions.

In GEN McChrystal's defense, Candidate Obama spoke out forcefully in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Then in March, following lessons recently learned in Operation Iraqi Freedom, President Obama approved changes in the strategy in Afghanistan, in part by appointing GEN McChrystal as the OEF commander.

But now, after having seemingly made his decision, President Obama is delaying the commitment of the resources needed to implement a COIN "surge" in Afghanistan.

Due to these conflicting signals from his boss, it may have been too confusing for GEN McChrystal to realize the politically correct responses to cover for the president during the media question/answer session. The general may have, in fact, believed he was speaking in support of the president who had sent the general to Afghanistan to do a job, where the strategy changes and his on-the-job experience have informed his recommendation for more troops.

As well, part of the confusion may be getting used to the new boss, who's not like the old boss. In contrast to Obama, when President Bush made his decisions to approve the counter-insurgency strategy and attendant resources/personnel "surge" for Operation Iraqi Freedom, they weren't separate decisions: the strategy change came with the resources needed to implement the new strategy. Bush's concurrent decisions for OIF gave a clear signal to GEN Petraeus of Bush's commander's intent for Iraq, which allowed Petraeus to speak to the media about Iraq from the same page as the president.

But the current president, unlike his predecessor, made the decision for strategy changes in Afghanistan and then has withheld the practical commitment needed to implement them. Therefore, President Obama's intent for Afghanistan has become opaque, which has made it difficult for GEN McChrystal to speak to the media about Afghanistan from the same page as his boss.

We all thought we knew Obama's intent, but right now, we - including the general and the other Americans and allies trying their best to accomplish mission in Afghanistan - don't know what the US president intends for Afghanistan. That's bad: anyone who's had experience as a subordinate in a real-world mission with real-world consequences knows leadership uncertainty makes for a fragile work environment. This controversy is a manifestation of that.

P.S. Related relevant reading, from the Washington Post: Don't Settle for Stalemate in Afghanistan, by Ike Skelton and Joe Lieberman
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/10/16/AR2009101602650.html

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my question is why now? they've been doing this for a long time now. but if this really pushed thru then it's a good thing to afghan people.

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I think President obama preparing to quit Afghan war... is it good for obama?????? i don't think so...but my friends told its a good for Afghan.

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