Editorial: General chaos ends quickly; spotlight falls on Petraeus

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Military people have their differences with orders they have to carry out, we are sure. The smart ones never call out their boss in a national magazine.

President Obama did the only thing he could do by relieving Gen. Stanley McChrystal of command in the war in Afghanistan. In an extensive and shockingly candid interview with the Rolling Stone, McChrystal criticized the president, the vice president, the national security team, the strategy in Afghanistan — just about every comment violated the military ethic described by poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson in “The Charge of the Light Brigade”: “Theirs not reason why, theirs but to do and die.”

Obama is fortunate to have as a replacement Gen. David Petraeus, who like McChrystal is a graduate of West Point. Unlike McChrystal, Petraeus understands the art of persuasion. Petraeus commanded the troop surge in Iraq just as the public’s frustration with the war was at a peak in early 2007. He deftly handled criticism as violence initially remained high in Iraq after the surge.

Petraeus has a doctorate in public affairs from Princeton University, but some things you don’t learn from a book. Like how to keep disagreements with your civilian bosses from capturing megaton-bomb headlines.

At a Capitol Hill news conference after Obama’s announcement that McChrystal would step aside, Sen. Lindsey Graham said, “How you think having Rolling Stone follow you around for a month is a good idea — it’s a judgment question.”

That says it all.

Obama, who likes to wring the last “if, and or but” out of every political decision, was right to make the judgment on McChrystal quickly. The message to other generals who might test his resolve was unmistakable.

As for Petraeus, his most powerful enemy might be high expectations. Richard Fontaine, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington, D.C., think tank, told The Wall Street Journal Thursday: “If the sense is the guy who won in Iraq is going to march over ... and manufacture victory in a few months, that’s an expectation that no one can achieve.”

While Petraeus is skilled, he will need time to understand Afghanistan and how the strategy of counterinsurgency is working — or not working — there. The doctrine is to fight the Taliban by winning over the civilian population. With U.S. fatalities in Afghanistan at 1,000 and climbing, the public’s patience is wearing thin.

The commander in chief needs a general he can trust. But the American people need a strategy they can trust or, at least, understand. Petraeus shows promise on that front — and he won’t get his picture on the cover of the Rolling Stone.

Rockford (Ill.) Register Star