During the Bush administration there were only two American commanders of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Under Obama there have so far been five. There has been a new ISAF commander nearly every single year that Obama has been in office. The only exception is 2012 when Obama was too busy trying to win an election to bother further sabotaging a losing war.
The parade of musical chair generals began when Obama demanded the resignation of General McKiernan. The Washington Post called the firing of a wartime commander a “rare decision.” It was the first time since the days of General Douglas MacArthur that a four-star commanding general had been purged during a war.
The decision may have been rare, but it was not unexpected. General McKiernan was fired for the same offense that General McArthur had been targeted during the Korean War: He had demanded competency from an incompetent Democrat.
McKiernan had embarrassed Obama by demanding more troops to fight the war. The situation came to a head as General McKiernan pressed an indecisive Obama to make a decision. It was a devastating scene for an administration which had covered its pivot away from Iraq with concern trolling about winning in Afghanistan. The troops would be delivered, but McKiernan would pay the price.
General McKiernan’s firing was put down to the need for fresh ideas. McKiernan was deemed too “old school” because he wanted to fight an old-fashioned war against the Taliban while Obama Inc. believed that the war couldn’t be won by beating the Taliban, but by winning the hearts and minds of Afghans. It was a fashionable and doomed strategy that required sacrificing the lives and limbs of thousands of American soldiers to political correctness.
The old-school general who had once said, “I don’t understand ever putting your men and women in harm’s way, without their having the full ability to protect themselves. That also means operating on actionable intelligence to defeat insurgents, and protect your forces. That’s how you keep your soldiers alive,” was clearly not the man for that job.
Replacing him as ISAF commander was General McChrystal. McChrystal was everything that McKiernan wasn’t. He was hip fresh blood. He voted for Obama, listened to the right music and was a big fan of counterinsurgency. He hooked up with Greg Mortenson and handed out copies of Three Cups of Tea to his staff. The book proved to be a fraud and so did the COIN strategy for winning over the Afghans.
American soldiers were prevented from defending themselves to avoid offending the Afghans and the war was not moving forward. McChrystal claimed that he had presented a plan to Washington for defeating the Taliban, but Washington only wanted their capabilities degraded. The relationship between McChrystal and Obama also degraded, and McChrystal was fired over a negative Rolling Stone article that revealed that the ISAF commander held Obama and his cronies in contempt.
Urgently, Obama swapped out General McChrystal for General Petraeus, a former enemy now turned wartime ally. In only two years, Obama had gone through three generals and fired two wartime four-star generals, setting a new record for mismanaging a war.
Petraeus’s move from Central Command to commanding the ISAF was unprecedented and did not last long. With the Taliban undefeated and the conflict shifting from a military war to a campaign of drone strikes and targeted assassinations, General Petraeus shifted over to the CIA to command the new fallback position of the war effort as Director Petraeus. But a year later, Petraeus met the same fate as McKiernan and McChrystal after alienating the CIA top brass which enmeshed him in a scandal. It did not help matters any that Republicans were salivating over the idea of a Petraeus candidacy in 2016.
Petraeus had been replaced by General Allen, who became enmeshed in the same scandal, and the confirmation hearings of his replacement, General Dunford, were sped up. This month, Dunford has taken command of an ISAF in retreat as Afghanistan has become the new Iraq. And Dunford has become the fifth ISAF commander under Obama. Of his four predecessors, all have ended their careers under a cloud.
The War in Afghanistan has been lost and so have the careers of most of its commanders. Obama has constantly swapped out generals, and unlike the rotating allied ISAF commanders during the Bush era, many of them were fired because they threatened Obama politically in some way.
The record is an ugly one, but it is not limited to the war theater in Afghanistan. After the Benghazi disaster, General Carter Ham of AFRICOM was reportedly edged out after telling a Republican Congressman that he had not received any requests for support. His replacement, General Rodriguez, had earlier taken over part of McKiernan’s job after Obama had forced him out.
More recently General Mattis, the commander of United States Central Command, Petraeus’s old job, was booted out without even a personal phone call for being too hawkish about Iran. The insult was unprecedented and the reason was the same. Like McKiernan and McChrystal, Mattis had offended important people in the Obama administration. And for that he paid the price.
General Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, exemplifies the costs of career survival in the age of Obama. Dempsey echoes everything that the civilians tell him. He never disagrees with them in public and likely not in private. Whatever new gimmick comes out of the White House, whether it’s Green Energy or homosexuality, he’s right there behind it and out in front of it.
Dempsey has no ideas of his own and he doesn’t need any. He has nothing to bring to the table except a willingness to act as Obama’s pet parrot in a uniform. When McChrystal first met Obama, he recalled thinking that Obama was “uncomfortable and intimidated” by the room full of military brass. That observation helped get McChrystal fired and these days it’s the military brass that feels uncomfortable and intimidated by Obama Inc.
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.