Tales from the Trail

McChrystal gets to keep his 4 stars

mcchrystalGeneral Stanley McChrystal will go out with all the benefits of a four-star general, even though he hasn’t been in the position long enough to retire with that rank.

McChrystal was fired last week as the top U.S. commander  in Afghanistan. President Obama relieved McChrystal of his command after the general and his aides were quoted in a “Rolling Stone” article disparaging the president, vice president and top White House advisers involved in the war effort.

On Monday, McChrystal informed his bosses at the Pentagon that he is retiring from active duty. But whether he’d get to keep his 4 stars — and get the retirement benefits that come with them — was an open question. McChrystal has been a four-star general for only about a year — half the time normally necessary to qualify for a four-star general’s retirement income.

As commander in chief, it’s Obama call.

“The president believes — and has talked with Secretary Gates about this — and we will do whatever is necessary to ensure that he, somebody who has served the country as ably as he has, can retire at a four-star level,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.

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Photo Credit: REUTERS/Massoud Hossaini/Pool (Gen. McChrystal aboard a helicopter leaving Kandahar city June 13, 2010)

Obama delivers checkmate by moving generals

President Barack Obama managed to pull the rabbit out of the hat.

In a surprise move, he chose superstar General David Petraeus to replace General Stanley McChrystal, whose team had badmouthed just about every top civilian adviser to Obama on Afghanistan in a Rolling Stone magazine article. AFGHANISTAN/

And with that one decision he managed to wipe away any impression that as commander-in-chief he would allow insubordination, and he preempted any criticism that he would allow the war in Afghanistan to be without competent leadership for reasons of politics and vanity.

It was by far the smartest move, and no one predicted it. That may have something to do with the fact that if the military was a corporation, Petraeus would essentially be taking a demotion — he is currently head of Central Command which oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and will now be in charge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

General headed to the woodshed, will he get the axe?

The sound of palms slapping foreheads could be heard all over Washington, the physical exclamation of ”what were they thinking?”

The spectacularly frank quotes from General Stanley McChrystal and his aides mocking Vice President Joe Biden and other top advisers to the president and commander-in-chief were jaw-dropping, not because that’s what they really thought, but because the views were uttered to a reporter working on a profile for Rolling Stone magazine. USA/AFGHANISTAN

Right from the first headline of the article titled “The Runaway General” it was apparent what was to come: “Stanley McChrystal, Obama’s top commander in Afghanistan, has seized control of the war by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”

Frankly, Mr. Karzai, the U.S. does give a damn

When two heads of state stand side-by-side in public, it’s all about reading into the words they choose and the body language.

AFGHANISTAN-USA/In the case of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. President Barack Obama the word “frank” came up a number of times.

In Washington-speak when political leaders describe discussions as “frank” and “very frank”  it usually means they didn’t quite see eye-to-eye. And given the recent tensions between Karzai’s government and the U.S. government that the visit sought to ease, the use of the word “frank” showed that not everything was agreeable.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

With Karzai off to Washington, Taliban talks back in focus

marjah"The effort required to bring about a compromise was indistinguishable from the requirements of victory—as the administration in which I served had to learn from bitter experience."

The quote is from Henry Kissinger on Vietnam but you could just as easily apply it to the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan of aiming to weaken the Taliban enough to bring them to the negotiating table. And unfashionable as it is to compare Vietnam to Afghanistan (it was hopelessly overdone last year), it does encapsulate one of the many paradoxes of the American approach to the Taliban.

If, so the argument goes, the United States is willing to reach an eventual political settlement with the Taliban, why does it keep launching fresh military offensives? Or alternatively, if it has no intention of making a deal, why has President Barack Obama promised to start drawing down troops in 2011, signalling to the Taliban that all they need to do is wait it out until the Americans leave?

New poll shows boost for Afghan war strategy

A new national poll by Quinnipiac University shows that the Obama administration’s new strategy in Afghanistan is gaining some favor among voters.

AFGHANISTANConducted April 14-19, the poll of American voters found that 49 percent of the respondents approved of the way President Barack Obama is handling the situation in Afghanistan versus 39 percent who disagreed.

In another bit of good news for the White House, 56 percent of voters polled agreed that the United States was doing the “right thing” fighting in Afghanistan against 36 percent who did not.

Senator to USAID: Stop your high-flying ways

An influential senator warned the official U.S. overseas aid agency: come down to earth with the impoverished people or see your funding cut.

QUAKE-HAITI/FRANCESenator Patrick Leahy said he was concerned that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) had become “distant from the trenches,” sometimes more eager to deal with foreign elites than the suffering masses who had no voice.

Leahy’s opinion matters because he chairs the Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees the budget for USAID, which the Obama administration hopes to transform into an important tool to boost the U.S. image abroad.

U.S. officials seek to shelve Karzai tensions

Tensions, what tensions?

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew arrived back from Afghanistan and Pakistan on Friday, touting the performance of several ministers in Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government.

OBAMA-AFGHANISTANHis visit came at a particularly tense time in U.S.-Afghan relations after Karzai made some corrosive statements in recent weeks against his donors, blaming the West for much of the corruption in his country and drawing critical comments from the White House.

Hours after landing home, Lew went out of his way to single out several Afghan ministers, including the finance and agriculture ministers, who he said were “extraordinary leaders.”

Holbrooke hits the airwaves in new push

When President Barack Obama snuck into Afghanistan unannounced last month, a notable omission on Air Force One was his special representative for the region, veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke. OBAMA-AFGHANISTAN

Leaving out the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan on Obama’s very first trip to Kabul as president raised a few eyebrows.

Was Holbrooke’s star fading? Were frictions between his office at the State Department and the White House coming to a head? Would tensions with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has made a string of anti-Western comments over recent weeks, cause further problems for the Obama administration as it seeks to turn around the 8-year war?

from Photographers' Blog:

Destination: Afghanistan

It all started out with a phone call from Reuters News Pictures Washington Editor In Charge Jim Bourg on Thursday night informing me there was a secret Presidential trip leaving on Saturday to an undisclosed destination which Reuters would like me to travel with the president on. I was told that this was very secretive and that I was not to mention it to anyone and that no details were available yet. I had been with President Obama on his secret trip to Baghdad last year, so it was pretty easy to figure out that the destination this time might be Afghanistan, a trip which had been highly anticipated since Obama became president 15 months ago. I was to expect to be contacted directly by the White House for a meeting to discuss the details. But I was to "open" the White House as the first Reuters photographer arriving there on Friday morning at 7am, my scheduled shift, and to go about my day as planned acting as if everything was normal. Nothing could be further from the truth.

That afternoon I was called in to meet with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in his office at 4pm, along with some of the other members of the 14 person media travel pool who would be going on the secret trip aboard Air Force One.

We were given a schedule of events and were sworn to secrecy. I headed home to pack and test out the BGAN satellite phone I had been provided by Reuters for the trip.