June 22, 2010

Three Options for the President

Something very, very positive happened today in Washington, DC. Senior Republican legislators, to include Sen. John McCain, and Bush Administration national security specialists, to include Peter Feaver and Eliot Cohen (both careful scholars of counterinsurgency and civil-military relations, I might add), have made clear that the president is well within his rights to fire Gen. McChrystal for comments made in a Rolling Stone article by Michael Hastings. Those who love our constitutional democracy should exhale, because I for one was really afraid this was going to turn into a partisan catfight, with those on the Left screaming for the president to fire McChrystal and those on the Right laying the blame at the feet of the president.

I am at a loss, though, as to what the best option for the president is. As I have made clear, I believe any course of action carries risk. The purpose of this post is to share three options for the president that, I believe, minimize those risks.

1. If you decide to retain Gen. McChrystal:

Have him resign ... and then do not accept his resignation. If you really do not think the war in Afghanistan can be waged without Gen. McChrystal, you still have to make clear that words and actions carry consequences and that at the end of the day, the President of the United States is the commander in chief. This option allows the president to keep Gen. McChrystal while at the same time reestablishing a healthier civil-military balance.

2a. If you decide to fire Gen. McChrystal (but believe the current strategy is still the most appropriate strategy for Afghanistan):

Fire him, and replace him with LTG Dave Rodriguez, McChrystal's deputy. This is a simple "drop one" drill, it allows for the greatest continuity, and it allows you to procede as planned with both operations this summer and this fall's strategic review.

2b. If you decide to fire Gen. McChrystal (but decide you need a new strategy as well):

Fire him and name LTG Rodriguez the interim commander while you carry out another strategic review. Once you decide on your new strategy, name a commander best suited for carrying out that strategy. The shame here is that the U.S. general best qualified to carry out a lighter-footprint counter-terror strategy like the one described by Austin Long is ... Stan McChrystal.