Will Obama sack McChrystal?
Published: June 22, 2010
Should he stay or should he go? There are ample reasons to take either side.
All eyes are on Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama, who must decide whether to fire his war commander over the Rolling Stone interview, or to stand by his side and from the White House proclaim he trusts Gen. Stanley McChrystal (and so should 94,000 troops under his command).
There is a lot to weigh. McChrystal is the war commander hand-picked by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, probably the most influential member of Obama's cabinet. And McChrystal's team has a good relationship with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Rolling Stone said. Pentagon officials like to say, frequently, that “nobody gets it” more than "Stan McChrystal" about counterinsurgency, about Afghanistan, about the politics of it all. And besides, who could possibly replace him?
But Gates has held top brass and political leaders accountable for other gaffes. Walter Reed in shambles? Goodbye, Army secretary. Nuclear bombs flown across the country? So long, Air Force secretary. There is plenty of historical precedent of war commanders getting the boot, so it's nothing new, though all of them have unique sets of circumstances.
The most recent public rebuke of a senior commmander was the one U.S. Army Pacific Commander Lt. Gen. Benjamin “Randy” Mixon received for going against the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal? Mixon remains in his job. Where does that leave McChrystal?
The U.S. military has always placed its trust in one man at the top, from George Washington to Ulysses Grant to Norman Schwarzkopf. But there are a lot of generals in the military. Here are a few who could get the call:
Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, US Army
Caldwell is one of two key McChrystal deputies and is in charge of training the Afghan security forces. There is perhaps no mission more important than training. In 2010, McChrystal was tapped to lead a counterinsurgency because of his skills as a special operations forces commander. The White House strategy that emerged after last autumn’s deliberations placed a heavy premium on COIN, which requires training up the local force so the U.S. can go home. Caldwell previously was in charge of the Army’s premiere school as commanding general of the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth, and head of the US Army Command and General Staff College. In Iraq, Caldwell previously was the spokesman for Multi National Force-Iraq, and deputy chief of the staff for strategy. He is well-liked and press savvy.
Lt. General David Rodriguez, US Army
Rodriguez is the deputy commander of US forces in Afghansitan and the commander of the combined, joint war operations in Afghanistan (officially International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, or IJC.) From his operational command center in a cavernous converted gymnasium at the Kabul International Airport loaded with giant screens and rows of computer stations manned by a truly international force of officers, Rodriguez keeps tabs on troops in every inch of the country. The towering and affable general is one of McChrystal’s two main deputies, known affectionately as “General Rod” – which sounds like General Zod, of Superman II fame. He also has Pentagon experience, serving previously as senior military assistant to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. But he is also somewhat awkward with the media when the red light turns on.
Gen. James Mattis, US Marine Corps
The outgoing 4-star commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command was passed over for the commandant’s position just this month and faces retirement. Mattis is beloved, a bachelor, and truly experienced combat commander. He also knows high-level politics, serving as Supreme Allied Commander Transformation for NATO. He knows Marines, having commanded the I Marine Expeditionary Force and served as the commander of U.S. Marine Forces Central Command. He knows southern Afghanistan well as he was a commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade and Task Force 58. And for good measure, he commanded the 1st Marine Division during the Iraq invasion.
Gen. Walter “Skip" Sharp, US Army
Sharp is the 4-star commander of all U.S. and U.N. troops in Korea. That's a long way from the flag pole, as they like to say, but Sharp has a long Pentagon pedigree, serving four stints on the Joint Staff, most recently as director. Sharp remains a frequent Washington visitor and got a recent press bump during the coverage of North Korea’s sinking of a South Korean ship.
UPDATE -- Gates has released this statement: "I read with concern the profile piece on Gen. Stanley McChrystal in the upcoming edition of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine. I believe that Gen. McChrystal made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment in this case. We are fighting a war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies, who directly threaten the United States, Afghanistan, and our friends and allies around the world. Going forward, we must pursue this mission with a unity of purpose. Our troops and coalition partners are making extraordinary sacrifices on behalf of our security, and our singular focus must be on supporting them and succeeding in Afghanistan without such distractions. Gen. McChrystal has apologized to me and is similarly reaching out to others named in this article to apologize to them as well. I have recalled Gen. McChrystal to Washington to discuss this in person."