President Barack Obama made an important defense of democracy by firing Gen. Stanley McChrystal from his Afghanistan command post, after the general and his top aides lambasted the president and his national security team, including Vice President Joe Biden, for a Rolling Stone article. The president announced McChrystal's boss, Gen. David Petraeus, would take over the Afghan campaign.
Clearly, McChrystal had to go. He publicly expressed contempt for the president and the Constitution, which wisely made a civilian the commander in chief. Part of the battle for democracy in our country is defending that civilian rule against the power of the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex. Score one for democracy with McChrystal's ouster.
But, now what?
There is much parsing as to why the general allowed Rolling Stone - of all places - such access to his seemingly off-the-cuff remarks. Arrogance? Warrior-god complex? Or was it something more political?
McChrystal and other Pentagon bigwigs, including Petraeus, pushed and pushed for an Afghan surge. The president, unfortunately, complied. But Obama added something to the surge that infuriated these generals: a timeline for starting a drawdown of troops - July 2011. A review of the Afghanistan policy is set for December. Perhaps, the message behind McChrystal's Rolling Stone comments: No review, no timeline.
We have said it before, and we'll say it again. War will not solve Afghanistan's many-layered problems. The U.S. war there will not make either Americans or the Afghan people more secure. This is a 30-year civil war that was created by U.S. Cold War policies to begin with. And now the violence is spreading to neighboring Pakistan. It can indeed become the Obama administration's "Big Muddy."
The U.S. public is growing increasingly skeptical of this nine-year war and its mounting cost in treasure and lives.
The Obama administration needs a new Afghanistan strategy. It has to involve getting U.S. and NATO military forces out as rapidly as possible, with a clear timetable - as proposed by Sen. Russ Feingold and Rep. Jim McGovern. It has to focus on helping rebuild Afghanistan's shattered economy, on cooperation with regional powers like China, Russa, Iran and India to that end, and on utilizing the extensive resources and expertise of the United Nations.
Such a strategy will mean standing up to more generals, to the war machine and its far-right partners in Congress. This is a critical juncture, for sure, and one where the American people can play a critical role by sending a message to the White House and Congress that the U.S. must bring the troops home. The $30-plus billion a year for this war should be spent in rebuilding war-torn Afghanistan - and rebuilding our decimated American economy.
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Photo: Gen. Stanley McChrystal. (www.army.mil)