Crossing the Rubicon with Gen. Stanley McChrystal

previously published at Demagogues and Dictators

Gen. Stanley McChrystal is ISAF Commander no longer -- at least that's what an unnamed TIME source is reporting.

If he hadn't resigned willingly, he should have been fired. If he resigned under pressure, he got off light. (For those of you living in a cave somewhere, go check out Rolling Stone.)

This morning Gen. Stanley McChrystal was flying home -- past the point of no return. But unlike in 49 BC, this time Caesar's army stayed at the front. The comparisons are flying fast and loose out here in the blogosphere, but whether the new crisis between Pres. Obama and his Afghan commander is the modern parallel of McArthur and Truman seems less important that what has actually happened in the past 24 hours.

Sure, it is satisfying (and required) to berate the General's apparent disdain for things like chain of command and those who disagree with him.

It is fitting to point out that for a special forces guy, McChrystal sure seems to love the media.

It is infuriating that for the second time in a year he has fundamentally challenged the authority of both the SecDef and POTUS in a very public way.

And he should be (and now is) gone.

While, according to this profile, he is apparently no stranger to bad romance; why McChrystal chose to deliver his resignation letter in the Lady Gaga edition of RS is a question for other pundits, the real question, in my mind, is: what now?

ISAF is without a commander, and after a year of taking body punches from the political right on his war decision making, President Obama and Secretary Gates can ill afford a lengthy interview process to pick his successor.

The pick, however, is more than simply finding someone willing to fill McChrystal's shoes -- it will define the future of the US strategy in Afghanistan. So far President Obama has gotten rid of his McClellan (Gen. McKiernan) and now his Mead (McChrystal). Will the next general redefine the conflict in Afghanistan the way Grant did in Northern Virginia?

The answer? Unlikely. The COINistas seem to have won this battle -- as evidenced by McChrystal's fratboy antics towards Joe Biden -- and while the US may be changing commanders, the strategy will not shift -- though the time frames will (and most likely should) shift for the coming action in Kandahar. Like it or hate it, COIN is here to stay. (I don't think we can afford another powerpoint slide defining it anyway)

But that doesn't mean that COIN cannot continue to evolve. In Anbar, luck and risk combined with strategic buffoonery on the part of AQI gave us Petraus's first generation of COIN. It's original failure in Afghanistan taught us that COIN was not a cookie cutter tactic that could be plucked from the Sunni deserts of Iraq to the Pashtun belt of the Hindu Kush. McChrystal's bleeding ulcer in Marja has many lessons for his successor -- if they can learn them. (side note -- if Tom Friedman doesn't pull out some version of COIN 3.0 in the next week I'll be shocked)

But who will it be? Tom Ricks over at FP is calling for some Petraus/Mattis hive-mind. No offense to both men, but this is exactly the wrong idea. Petraus must keep his eyes on CENTCOM, and Mattis (for all his awesomeness) is heading towards retirement. The head of JSOC is currently a Vice Admiral -- President Obama cannot shoulder-tap a former special operator to take of ISAF from there the way he did with McChrystal -- and the ranks of COINista generals in the USMC and US Army are thinning, at least publicly. Many are unwilling to accept the heightened risk to the soldier required by COIN's shifting mission from force protection to its civilian centric approach -- even McChrystal lost the confidence of many ISAF troops through his revised ROE (if we believe the Rolling Stone representation).

So who? And when?

Lets see what tomorrow brings. President Obama, Sec. Gates, ISAF and the entire US Mission in Afghanistan are in crisis -- but in every crisis there is both danger and opportunity. This may be a chance to balance the civil-military mission in the region -- back from the one-sided dominance of McChrystal over Eikenberry and Holbrooke, and towards a functioning strategy in Afghanistan.

Or maybe not.

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