It is difficult to see how General McChrystal could have remained effective in his post following the publication of the Rolling Stone article — chock full of derisive comments made by McChrystal and his staff about his civilian counterparts and superiors. President Obama was right to relieve him of his command.
And President Obama was right to choose General Petraeus as McChrystal’s replacement. Petraeus knows COIN inside and out and, as the commander in charge of CENTCOM, is fully up to date on developments in the Afghan theater. The transition will be seamless. There will be no learning curve.
But sacking McChrystal and reassigning Petraeus merely controls damage. If President Obama wants to use this opportunity to actually enhance our Afghanistan policy, he will also replace Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke and Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. Neither Holbrooke nor Eikenberry has a functional working relationship with President Karzai — Holbrooke because of his early efforts to find a replacement for Karzai during the Afghan election, and Eikenberry because of leaked cables in which he stated that he did not believe Karzai to be an adequate partner. So Eikenberry and Holbrooke no longer have any sway over Karzai, and they are not capable of effectively serving as intermediaries between him and President Obama. Furthermore, Holbrooke and Eikenberry are at best lukewarm about the COIN strategy the administration is implementing and have not been proactive in making sure that civilian personnel in Afghanistan are taking the steps necessary for the surge to succeed.
How to implement this shake-up? Obama will not of his own volition institute such sweeping change. But Petraeus, who will be stepping down from a higher post in order to take command in Afghanistan, will now have enormous latitude with President Obama. If Petraeus pushes for the removal of Holbrooke and Eikenberry — on the grounds that he needs a fresh team with a more collaborative mindset and a stronger relationship with Karzai — then it will happen. And our war effort in Afghanistan would be much better for it.
– Alexander Benard, managing director of an investment firm, has worked at the Department of Defense and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.