This was an extremely bad day for the Obama administration. Right after Obama’s “Meet The Press” declaration that he would not allow strategy to be driven by resources, the leaker of the the McChrystal strategy review attempted to do precisely that, even though McChrystal’s review itself states that such an outcome is undesirable even while it lays the groundwork for additional resources. A day filled, from my perspective, with off-the-record conversations with administration officials leaves me with this fragmented report.
First, I don’t think McChrystal leaked the review, even though Josh Rogin suggested McChrystal’s people may have. Maybe Josh is right, as he’s an excellent reporter. But several officials, in Washington and Kabul, disputed that, and some of them are in positions to know. My initial suspicion was that it was Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who has been vocal recently about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, but another trusted source doubted that as well. The consensus speculation: this was some staffer who wants more troops deployed who thinks he or she is helping his or her boss.
The other consensus is that such a person miscalculated. “Whoever did it, for whatever reason, this is boxing in the president and the secretary of defense in a harmful way,” said a Pentagon official. “Obama has made it clear that, unlike his predecessor, he will not simply do whatever the field commander says.” And it’s worth remembering that, again, Obama saw this assessment weeks ago and made a very deliberate statement in an interview about making his own judgment and privileging strategy over resources. A different official said that there was an office parlor game about when the strategy review would leak and how the resulting media frenzy would play out.
Still, the response from congressional Republicans indicates that they smell blood. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate GOP leader, gave a floor speech that both graciously praised Obama’s resolve and hinted at a GOP attempt to inflict political consequences on Obama if he doesn’t endorse whatever resource request McChrystal delivers:
“The President, to his credit, has not lost sight of this sobering reality. But any failure to act decisively in response to General McChrystal’s request could serve to undermine the other good decisions the President has made.
“General McChrystal has made clear that more forces are necessary. But even that won’t be enough. Even with the best strategy and the finest implementation, our efforts in Afghanistan will not succeed without the support of the American people. This is why, in my view, the President must soon explain to the American people his reasons either for accepting the McChrystal Plan or, if he chooses an alternative, explain why he believes the alternative is better.
McConnell also urged McChrystal and Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus to testify before Congress about “how their strategy will work.” (Notice now in this formulation it’s “their” strategy, though it’s not totally clear that McChrystal and Petraeus are on the same page, but it’s not a crazy bet.) No word yet on whether they will.
(For the record, that background quote I have above was the only quote that anyone let me even go off-the-record to run with, which is a barometric indicator of how bad a day this was for the administration. For more analysis, Josh’s post is excellent, and gets Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy on record, and Marc Ambinder’s post is also great.)