Since his candidacy for President, critics have accused Barack Obama of being “soft,” unable to muster the nerve to express anger over obvious slights. Some people have surmised that his guarded temperament is strategic, that the nation’s first Black President fears that racists will label him an “angry Black man.” There is also the school of thought that his Hawaiian upbringing accounts for his mellow personality. Whatever the case might be, the “coolness” of the President, at first a point of admiration, was turning into a political liability in a town where confrontation is inevitable and payback part of the game.
Few people are questioning this President’s toughness after he summarily kicked General Stanley A. McChrystal to the curb for the Afghanistan War commander’s insults revealed in a Rolling Stone magazine interview. The general has a reputation for being a bit of an, excuse the Palinism, “maverick,” but even his supporters were scratching their heads for McChrystal’s breach of protocol in publicly ridiculing the President and other key administration aides. In the parlance of the streets, General McChrystal was “smelling himself” when his loose lips sank his military command. The general’s comments were a violation of the sacred duty of the military to respect the Constitutional power invested in the civilian authority of the President of the United States as Commander-in-Chief.
Despite General McChrystal’s obvious misstep, the real buzz inside the Beltway, and I suspect outside of the cocoon of the nation’s capital, was whether President Obama would respond timidly and simply deliver a stern reprimand. I suspect that might have been what would have occurred if this incident transpired months ago. I think this President’s experience with the BP oil spill put him on the edge; he has been on a slow boil for weeks now and McChrystal put him over the top. After weeks and weeks of trying to show restraint in the face of the environmental hell that the BP leak has unleashed on the Gulf Coast, the general picked the wrong time to be cocky and arrogant. This latest insult was like a change- up thrown to Derek Jeter; there should have been no doubt that the President was about to hit it out of the park.
President Obama wasted no time in naming General David H. Petraeus to replace McChrystal. Petraeus was the architect of the military “surge” in Iraq that is credited with defusing the insurgency so his appointment is likely well received by troops on the ground as well as hawks on the Hill. For most Americans what matters most is the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, a war that for years was fought in the shadows of Iraq but is the epicenter of the real war on terrorism. The loss of life in Afghanistan is difficult for Americans to accept if there does not seem to be a real possibility of capturing Osama bin Laden. While some of the al Qaeda leader’s deputies have been killed, it is the big fish that Americans want captured and that might not be possible because bin Laden is either eluding the U.S. military with the assistance of allies in Pakistan or he is dead.
What I believe is most significant in President Obama’s firing of General McChrystal is it could be the turning point in how the general public perceives his presidency. Even the President’s most ardent supporters had begun to question Mr. Obama’s willingness to fight. On issue after issue, from health care to Wall Street reform, the President would tiptoe to the line of outrage and then retreat. It is one thing to be cool, many would argue, and quite another to be a doormat. The Barack Obama that served notice on General McChrystal is the President many had been waiting for. I hope that the same resolve President Obama has demonstrated in confronting General McChrystal, he will now use against opponents in Congress who are using every means possible to obstruct movement on key legislative proposals offered by the White House.
General Stanley A. McChrystal was in command of operations in Afghanistan, but President Obama showed him who’s the boss.