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Stan McChrystal’s Free Pass to Afghanistan

Want a sure sign that Army Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal isn’t going to face a difficult confirmation hearing to command U.S. forces in Afghanistan? The Senate Armed Services Committee just announced that McChrystal’s going before it on June 2. But it’s not his confirmation alone. He’s triple-booked alongside Adm. James Stavridis, the Southern Command chief who’s going to be NATO Supreme Allied Commander, and Air Force Lt. Gen. Douglas Fraser, who’s going to take Stavridis’ place at Southern Command.

This is Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the committee, pushing McChrystal through the process. While the counterinsurgency crowd loves McChrystal — he’s considered one of the finest, smartest and most capable officers the Army has produced in this current generation of general officers — the general faces serious questions about what he knew and didn’t know about a facility called Camp Nama operated by a task force under his command in Iraq, which became known for particularly grisly torture of Iraqi detainees. Andrew Sullivan’s blog has been diligently compiling accounts of Nama and Task Force 6-26 (the unit in question) in advance of McChrystal’s hearing. There are also concerns over McChrystal’s role in the cover-up of Pat Tillman’s death by friendly fire in Afghanistan, but there it appears more straightforwardly that McChrystal was telling his chain of command that the circumstances claimed publicly for Tillman’s death were untrue.

All of this would normally make for a rocky confirmation hearing. And that’s evidently what Levin is trying to avoid. You can see a circumstance where the committee could argue that it needs to hear both the NATO commander nomination and the Afghanistan commander nomination at once, because Afghanistan is a NATO mission as well as a U.S. mission, but even then that’s a thin pretext for not giving McChrystal, who’s about to get the most important command assignment in the military, his own hearing. (The foreign relations committee didn’t double-book Karl Eikenberry’s confirmation hearing for the Afghanistan ambassadorship with Ivo Daalder’s confirmation hearing for his NATO ambassadorship, for instance.) Adding the Southern Command hearing is just egregious. Will committee members get sufficient time to question McChrystal — or to let McChrystal answer the charges against him?

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