x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Dismissal makes for gripping television

President Obama's strongly worded dismissal of Gen Stanley McChrystal was just the image boost he needed.

WASHINGTON // Barack Obama's decision to relieve Gen Stanley McChrystal of his command in Afghanistan provided for some of the most dramatic moments of his presidency. On Wednesday afternoon, the nation watched eagerly as the stern-faced president delivered the news from the White House Rose Garden: Gen McChrystal was out; he would be replaced by Gen David Petraeus, who had already secured his place in history for salvaging a semblance of victory in Iraq.

The bold action and blunt words - Mr Obama said that Gen McChrystal did not "meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general" - were exactly what the president needed, according to many political and military analysts. His authority had been challenged when Gen McChrystal and his staff disparaged top-ranking administration officials in an article in Rolling Stone magazine. Keeping the general was not an option.

Allan Lichtman, a political historian at American University in Washington, said the president's reaction was a symbolic display of leadership from a man who is often criticised for being too calm and reserved. "The rap on Obama has been that he is too soft and he certainly could not allow that storyline to continue. He had to show that he was hard, he was tough and that he could take decisive action," he said. "People were watching this."

In choosing Gen Petraeus, the country's most prominent general, many analysts said Mr Obama made a wise choice that, for now, will help him avert a backlash from sceptical legislators. The general is best known for writing the book on US counterinsurgency strategy, but he also is well regarded for his press savvy and his ability to manoeuvre Washington. A confirmation hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday and Gen Petraeus is likely to coast through the process.

Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Gen Petraeus a "solid choice". John McCain, the committee's ranking Republican, said, "there is no one more qualified ? to achieve a successful conclusion of the Afghan conflict." Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who led an Afghanistan-strategy review for Mr Obama in 2009, said choosing Gen Petraeus represented the "minimally disruptive" way to replace Gen McChrystal.

Should Gen Petraeus succeed in Afghanistan, Mr Riedel added, he likely will land on the short list of strong presidential contenders. "We've now got two presidents in a row who have gone to David Petraeus to try to turn around a disaster," he said. "There are interesting questions about what this means for the future of David Petraeus ? but first he's got to succeed." Even incremental success, however, has been hard to achieve in Afghanistan. A key military offensive in Marja has bogged down and a larger offensive in the city of Kandahar has been delayed. Questions remain about the leadership of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and fierce Taliban resistance has led to even more US casualties.

Brian Katulis, who specialises in US national security policy at the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank, said tapping Gen Petraeus to replace Gen McChrystal is "not a panacea". Many problems, such as disagreements between top officials and a disconnect between military and civilian actors, remain, he said. "The fundamental problem here is that we've got a policy that does not seem to be achieving its desired effect," he said. "The strategy doesn't have enough clarity in terms of what its objectives are."