While backing McChrystal, he also appointed as our civilian leader in Afghanistan retired Gen. Karl Eikenberry, who disagreed with McChrystal's strategy. By all accounts, including Rolling Stone's, they have not had the close cooperative relationship that Gen. David Petraeus and civilian honcho Ryan Crocker had in Iraq in 2007 and 2008.
A president is entitled to take political factors into consideration in making military decisions. Franklin Roosevelt, who of all our presidents showed the greatest gift for selecting the right general or admiral for particular assignments, ordered the invasion of North Africa in 1942 against the unanimous advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He believed that the American people and our allies needed to see America taking decisive action in the European Theater, even in a peripheral location.
Obama leads a political party that before his election argued that Afghanistan was the good war (and Iraq the bad one) but which is now divided on whether we should persevere there. He faces an opposition party that mostly supports our course in Afghanistan but is worried about our prospects there and fears a premature withdrawal.
He is not the first president to head a national security establishment that is divided and distrustful, as the Rolling Stone article confirms. And he is surely not the first president to be the subject of disparaging remarks by his military subordinates.
But unfortunately those remarks have come out into the open in a way that makes it very hard to go on splitting the difference. With Gen. McChrystal gone, it may be time to consider other changes in personnel.
And it may be time for Obama to embrace a word he has been reluctant to utter: victory. His duty is to set a course that will produce success, to install the people who can achieve that goal and to give them the backing they need.
We didn't need this, and Barack Obama didn't, either. But he wanted the job, and now he must command.