Do wars and transparency mix?

October 5, 2009

President Barack Obama says he wants to have the most transparent administration ever.

But does that still hold when it comes to war? PORTUGAL/

There have been some subtle and not-so-subtle administration signals that perhaps General Stanley McChrystal publicly chatting about his views on Afghanistan strategy was not entirely welcome.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday urged advisers to offer their views to the president “candidly but privately” about a decision that “will be among the most important of his presidency.”

Gates named no names. But it would be difficult to ignore the timing of the comment, just days after McChrystal in London told the Institute of International and Strategic Studies that a strategy being floated by Vice President Joe Biden to narrow the mission in Afghanistan was short-sighted.

Usually, presidents want their generals seen (behind the Commander-in-Chief) and not heard (in public ahead of them). And Obama barely knows McChrystal. They met last week on Air Force One in Copenhagen for the first time since McChrystal presented a grim assessment of the war and requested more troops.

That report was earlier leaked to The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward. The leaking of the report (we don’t know who did it) could be seen as an attempt to force the president’s hand on the issue before he’s ready to take a stand.

NATO-AFGHANISTAN/Obama’s national security adviser James Jones, asked on CNN Sunday whether it was “unseemly” for men in uniform to openly campaign for their viewpoints, replied: “Ideally, it’s better for military advice to come up through the chain of command.”

So does this bode poorly for McChrystal’s future under Obama as commander-in-chief? Should a military general be publicly pressing his position on war strategy?

It seems October is the month for airing views on Afghanistan. Peter Galbraith, who was removed as deputy special U.N. representative in Afghanistan, on Sunday had a sharply direct opinion piece in The Washington Post about Afghan election fraud.

Click here for more Reuters political coverage

Photo credit: Reuters/Nacho Doce (McChrystal at a meeting in September), Reuters/Yves Herman (Gates and McChrystal at NATO headquarters)

16 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

This guy doesn’t know much about war. There is no war, just a trumped up conflict that the U.S. seems to think is tied to terrorism. The Russians figured it out several years ago. Pull out and leave those folks to whatever they like to do. It won’t impact this country either way. This is not rocket science people.

Posted by Frank | Report as abusive

In my opinion, General McChrystal’s speech in London in front of a Contractors, Oil and Security Lobby group about a classified Presidential Report is insulting, to put it mildly….and all this after his office or team ( or himself? ) leaked the Presidential report to the media a few days before makes him a total ignorant , incompetent or worst.
We need to build – up the Afghanistan Police and Army, to create a Rule of Law State so that society can grow, but Gen. McChrystal and his Oil friends in London at the “Institute of International and Strategic Studies” got other plans, we need new local military leadership and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must find out what’s up with Gen. McChrystal and his possible links to these Oil and Weapons Lobby’s, who makes the deals to speak ?, he needs to get the whole story.

Posted by financialtools1 | Report as abusive

Every administration has its secrets. This is government we’re talking about, not the Lion’s Club. When Obama is out of office all the “dirt” will eventually be exposed. I don’t care if Christ himself is the president, no high office can be transparent. No government has ever been transparent, and this one is no exception.

Posted by Mufaso | Report as abusive

Obama’s self-serving Afghan fantasy has met up with McChrystal’s reality check.

Afghanistan to Obama boils down to whatever can get him elected or re-elected. The promised ‘war of necessity’ was a duplicitous campaign tactic by Candidate Obama to get President Obama elected. It was a misdirect means to bash-n-trash Bush for being ‘off-mission’ in Iraq without directly standing up to Bush’s folly in Iraq. Now President Obama’s latest, newest Afghanistan ‘strategy’ will be based on what can get him re-elected in 2012, or at least do no harm to his re-election bid — no matter what McChrystal recommends.

McChrystal is understandably operating as if President Obama’s Afghan intent was/is for real — and possible — as expressed by last year’s Candidate Obama. He knows President Obama sent him out on a limb to pull off the no-win/hail-mary that Candidate Obama promised. Click on the link to Bob Woodward’s article and read about all that must transpire and change within Afghanistan within a relative blink of the eye to fulfill all of Candidate Obama’s promises regarding Afghanistan. McChrystal also knows that President Obama’ official and unofficial surrogates can trash him publically but Obama can’t replace him without looking like a damn fool. Remember, McChrystal is Obama’s promised Wunderkind replacement for Bush’s McKiernan. Also, Afghanistan is real life and death for McChrystal and the personnel under his command — not just political — so anyone, including his civilian boss and his boss’ surrogates, can respectfully KHA if they don’t like leaks to the media.

When counter-insurgency is your business, you know to watch your rear as well as your front and flanks.

All told, the self-negating, self-cancelling Obama-McChrystal confrontation helps to show that Obama’s Afghanistan is the same self-serving M-I-C BS as Bush’s Iraq. And it’s a prime public example of what goes around comes around. Candidate Obama rode the no-win Afghan horse to victory. Now President Obama has no where to go but down because of Afghanistan.

Posted by dom youngross | Report as abusive

General McChrystal has made his suggestions public because he knows that in spite of what he suggests and things go wrong then they will blame him.Because he has done this obama will compromise,he will try to appease his left wing and also try to give the impression that he is supporting the troops ,he will sent half the troops.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

The general made a fatal mistake. What he leaked or said in public may or may not be good recommendation. But, the fact that he tipped his hands to the enemy out there made him unqualified to continue serving as the commander on the ground. Wars are like shadow boxing: there you see it, there you don’t. You never air your military strategy in public.

The general should be fired.

Posted by Gene | Report as abusive

The Russians may have ‘figured it out’ but when they attempted to implant a puppet regime in Afghanistan, Pakistan was not a nuclear power. Nor was it in danger of a collapse from internal strife. What happens in Afghanistan will reverberate throughout Pakistan and vise versa. Considering Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, I think that makes the conflict in Afghanistan a ‘war of necessity’.

Posted by David Morovan | Report as abusive

President OBAMA’s reality check is his own Generals,

and yet Obama is furious and shuns his own advisors

what a spineless weazel.

Shame on all of us for voting him!

Posted by Ian | Report as abusive

Maybe he’s just a puppet idiot like all the rest of the so called political generals. Maybe be can’t “win” the war because there is no war, or because we’re outsmarted. The Russians figured that out a long time ago.

Posted by Frank | Report as abusive

Mc Chrystal has forgot who he works for and how to report. If he had a opinion and he did i nstead of public forum he should have made his views noted to thee Joint Chiefs and the Security counciil not NEWSWEEK! Obama should replace him and make him CO of Fort Knox. XChrist next we will have the military running this country and we need that like a hole in the head! Ex Navy (FMF) and Air Force

Posted by Jake | Report as abusive

The Russians did figure out that an insurgency backed by the CIA is invincible. What the Obama administration hasn’t figured out is that it should heed the advice and suggestions of those that have direct involvement in the Afghanistan campaign. The Obama administration also fails to realize that they have to sack the ineffectual Karzai.

Posted by David Morovan | Report as abusive

McChrystal should be fired for insubordination.

Period.

Posted by Gregg | Report as abusive

I think because President Obama does barely know this general and he is responsible for soldiers in the field, that this is not a ‘MacArthur Moment’. It appears this is minor and that the correct course of action is a meeting between command, the general and the president.

I think the IISS was not an improper forum to air a strategic opinion that is different from a political opinion. It is certainly the type of think tank that would review and welcome such a minor public commentary.

I do not think that it is a severe breach with chain of command, other than a potential embarassment that an improper level of attention is being given to the conflict by civilian personnel.

A state department problem.

Any military command has a long tradition of splits between general’s in the field and the political. I do not think this administration wants to be associated with Wars. To which fact, there is no choice.

More troops will not be policically popular but it also might be necessary. There are lives on the line, we should hear the General.

james reginald harris,this guy was Obama,s personal choice for the job,after he fired the other general.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

Politicians make horrible commanders.

Posted by jason | Report as abusive

Do war and transparency mix? Not often, and for the US not for a long time.
Generals are completely entitled to their professional opinions which should be respected as just that. The trouble is they are not very good politicians.. and the truth, especially of a war, gets in the way of politics and the image that communications professionals like Obama and his staff are trying to sell.
Most wars are based on emotive lies as a way to get the public behind them, like Iraq, one of the annoyances of “democracy”, you have to keep up appearances.
Well it’s a good thing the media isn’t democratic, can you imagine how hard it would be to push a war like Iraq if it was!??

Posted by brian | Report as abusive