We hope the White House and Pentagon thought long and carefully before relieving Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, just short of the halfway mark of his two-year tour there. He is, after all, the general who led the lightning-fast 2003 ground war in Iraq.
The irony is that he will be leaving Afghanistan just as the extra forces he lobbied so hard for are arriving. But Defense Secretary Robert Gates felt that the war was becoming stalemated and that McKiernan, according to accounts of his ouster, was too cautious and conventional in his thinking.
"We have a new strategy, a new mission and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership is needed," Gates said.
That new leadership is Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, whose background is in special operations and unconventional war. We are likely to see a replay of overall commander Gen. David Petraeus’ successful strategy in Iraq of small U.S. units out in the population and involved in Afghanistan’s reconstruction.
President Obama endorsed the change in command. Having prevailed on Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, to stay on, he owes it to Gates to let him prosecute the war as he sees fit. Iraq will irredeemably be George W. Bush’s war, and now, with the rare decision to remove a U.S. commander in wartime, Afghanistan is now fully Obama’s war.