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Obama v. McChrystal: The Playing-Politics PR War With Afghanistan

22 June 2010 No Comment

More than 1000 American troops have been killed in Afghanistan fighting an enemy whose ideology in part loves death more than life. With the war in Afghanistan getting deadlier by the day, freelance writer Michael Hasting’s profile, the “Runaway General,” in Rolling Stone Magazine has triggered a public relations war: the Obama White House v. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, after he made disparaging remarks about President Obama and other top administration officials including Vice President Joe Biden, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, General Jim Jones and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. Given that President Obama is perceived by many Americans as weak, will he fire McChrystal or will McChrystal resign? But first, putting aside the White House PR war, the critical question to address is how has the PR offensive in Afghanistan and the new rules of engagement under McChrystal affected the troops on the ground?

From Associated Press:

Rolling Stone interviewed troops frustrated by McChrystal’s strict rules for combat that are intended to reduce the number of civilian casualties.

At one outpost, a soldier McChrystal had met earlier was killed in a house that the local U.S. commander had repeatedly asked to destroy. The request was denied, apparently out of concern that razing the house would anger locals whose allegiance the U.S. is trying to win.

“Does that make any (expletive) sense?” Pfc. Jared Pautsch asks. “We should just drop a (expletive) bomb on this place. You sit and ask yourself, ‘What are we doing here?'”

Now to the PR war in America. From Foxnews:

The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Obama called McChrystal on the carpet last fall for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops.

“I found that time painful,” McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. “I was selling an unsellable position.”
It quoted an adviser to McChrystal dismissing the early meeting with Obama as a “10-minute photo op.”
“Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. The boss was pretty disappointed,” the adviser told the magazine…

The article claims McChrystal has seized control of the war “by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”

Asked by the Rolling Stone reporter about what he now feels of the war strategy advocated by Biden last fall – fewer troops, more drone attacks – McChrystal and his aides reportedly attempted to come up with a good one-liner to dismiss the question. “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal reportedly joked. “Who’s that?”
Biden initially opposed McChrystal’s proposal for additional forces last year. He favored a narrower focus on hunting terrorists.

“Biden?” one aide was quoted as saying. “Did you say: Bite me?”
Another aide reportedly called White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired four star general, a “clown” who was “stuck in 1985.”

Some of the strongest criticism, however, was reserved for Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” one of the general’s aides was quoted as saying. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”

If Eikenberry had doubts about the troop buildup, McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy McChrystal was hired to execute.

McChrystal said he felt “betrayed” and accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.

“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books,” McChrystal told the magazine. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so.”‘

Gen. Stanley McChrystal issued a statement from Kabul that says in part: “I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened,”has been ordered to the White House to ostensibly explain his remarks:

This is not the first time McChrystal has been in the Obama White House crosshairs. Last fall, he bluntly called on the Obama Administration to back his surge strategy for Afghanistan while at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies—prior to President Obama making a decision.

While the Obama White House PR war may end shortly with Gen. McChrystal, for the troops on the ground the war wages on. Let’s hope this latest round of PR warfare doesn’t compromise combat operations. It’s tough enough operating in a theatre with a three-quarters surge and a PR deadline that screams to the people of Afghanistan, we’re leaving soon–you are on your own.

Stay tuned.