An amendment to the defense appropriations bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to compel Gen. Stanley McChrystal to testify before Congress by mid-November has failed on a party-line vote of 59 to 40. It was an escalation of a gambit most recently backed by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to cleave McChrystal from President Obama. But funny thing: the GOP might have ended up in a worse position if it got McChrystal to testify ahead of Obama’s decisions on Afghanistan strategy.
To understand why, really listen to McChrystal’s remarks to London’s Institute for International and Strategic Studies. The New York Times piece doesn’t do McChrystal’s performance justice. McChrystal reiterated his position that Afghan population security is necessary for a strategy to defeat al-Qaeda, but not at all in the thumbing-his-nose-at-Joe-Biden way that the Times portrays.
Instead, as I’ve been writing, McChrystal loudly and clearly defended Obama’s strategy review. Like a lot. When questioners asked if Obama needed to make a decision on Afghanistan strategy nownownow, McChrystal replied with statements like, “Sir, I don’t think we have the luxury of going so fast we make the wrong decision.” While the Times quoted McChrystal saying, about his resource request, “I think if you don’t align the goals and the resources, you will have a significant problem. If we don’t do that, we will,” it left off the preceding part of his answer:
I think any decision to go forward will not just be based on resources, it will be based on what are our goals. And I know people are re-looking what our goals and objectives are and redefining and clarifying those, and I think that’s helpful. Once they do that, I think the resources, of course, are linked to that, because obviously you have to have a ways and means match. So, I don’t think that if we align our goals and our resources, we will have a significant problem. Our problem would be as — if we didn’t.
Still not convinced? Want another quote? OK: “This is a necessary process we go through so we come to a clear decision, and then move forward, and I think once we make that decision — once he makes that decision, in concert with our international partners — then I think we’ll be in a much stronger position.”
Or how about this? When asked if he would “circumvent” some caveats placed by European parliaments on the use of their troops, he said, “I’m certainly not going to circumvent any political leadership, because at the end of the day, political leadership and the people are who I work for, and I’m proud to do that. I think the more deliberations we have, the more debate we have, the healthier this is gonna be. Because at the end of the day, we would be in much worse shape to have a decision made without that level of public debate.” You listening, Karl? Because McChrystal rebuked* your old boss*, not his current one.
And that’s likely to happen when McChrystal ultimately testifies before Congress. Military command is not the role for spoiled children who stamp their feet when they don’t get all the toys they want. It’s a responsibility for professionals like McChrystal who understand that they work for elected leaders who have to take a broader national strategy into consideration. McChrystal was faced with a room of people who were trying to open some daylight between him and Obama. And these were his responses.
Does the GOP actually think that McChrystal is going to rebuke his still-popular commander-in-chief to curry favor with the minority party? Indeed, even taking such a cynical view, it’s better for the GOP for McChrystal to testify after Obama’s decision, because if he remains in command while being dissatisfied with the decision, then the Republicans will more likely to exploit that fissure in testimony. But McChrystal has given no indication at all that he’d serve in that capacity.
This is a strange place for the politics of national security. The minority party is hoping that McChrystal will somehow decide that it’s in his interest to throw his chips in with a powerless party rather than exercise the responsibilities of his command and cultivate a constructive relationship with both parties. It’s that kind of thinking that led John McCain to become the 44th president of the United States, partnering with Mitch McConnell’s 60-seat Senate majority.
And for its part, there are even some on the progressive side who misinterpret recent McChrystal interviews to fit into some desired insubordination narrative, whereby Obama — and by extension, the progressive movement — is absolved of responsibility for the war because of the nefarious machinations of a revanchist military. None of this is remotely true. And McChrystal’s remarks in London, read in their full context, prove it.
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