My guess is that President Obama's management style is still confusing the press. Once again, I think I see some of the techniques I used. Discussion, discussion. And if someone gets out of line, you don't call him on it in public. But others might disagree with him in public or remind him of his obligations.
General Stanley McChrystal's rather imperious statements of his needs for troops and expectations of strategy were consistent with the way George W. Bush did business. If the generals are calling the shots, the president can feel like he's avoiding responsiblity for something he doesn't understand.
But Barack Obama wants to understand. If you want to understand a complex situation, you need to hear from many people. What McChrystal has to say is important. But there is a process for discussion and the requirement that the military report to the civilian part of the government.
So National Security Advisor James Jones and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reminded us all of that. That was a useful thing to do, to signal that they outrank McChrystal and that the discussion is more fruitfully carried on with those directly involved. It also signals to the public that civilians are still running the government. And that meeting between President Obama and General McChrystal in Copenhagen aboard Air Force One probably contained such reminders. We haven't heard anything about that meeting, which tells me that's what went on.
The article I linked as my preference doesn't get it all right.
The exchanges suggested some disarray in the Obama administration's attempts to forge a new policy on Afghanistan and underscored wide differences among top officials over the correct approach.They obviously didn't read the quote they took from Secretary Gates the way I did.
"It is important that we take our time to do all we can to get this right," Gates said in his address. "And in this process, it is imperative that all of us taking part in these deliberations, civilians and military alike, provide our best advice to the president candidly but privately."Given that our "top officials" aren't automatons and that what to do in Afghanistan is a tough problem, it would be amazing if there weren't "differences among" those officials. But disarray, I think not. A misunderstanding on General McChrystal's part, occasioned by his experience with an earlier President.