General David McKiernan got the heave-ho as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and is being replaced by Lieutenant-General Stanley McChrystal, who comes out of the Special Operations Forces. This shake-up is a sure sign that President Obama has assumed responsibility for waging the Afghan war and has made some major decisions about how that's going to happen from here on.
Of course, the word is that General David Petreaus, head of the Central Command that oversees military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and McKiernan's superior, did not have confidence in McKiernan, and that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who is not shy about relieving generals, agreed. Nonetheless, it's not every day that a senior commander gets the boot in the middle of a the war he's running, and the shuffle could not take place without the President fully on board. I don't pretend to know what exactly the Obama-Gates-Petreaus-McChrystal strategy will be, but I am certain now that there is one and that Obama is committed to it.
That's a good sign. One of George W. Bush's greatest failings -- perhaps his greatest -- was his apparent inability to cashier generals or secretaries of defense or anyone else, even if the war was going badly (which is an understatement in the case of Iraq). He sacked Rumsfeld and hired Gates, who then gave the key command to Petreaus, only after three and a half brutal years and under severe political pressure at home in the wake of the 2006 elections.
There is an old adage that no war plan survives the first contact with the enemy. In war, flexibility is a must -- even the willingness to throw out every aspect of a plan and start all over. In these terms, this is a promising start for Obama.
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