“I’ve talked to the president, since I’ve been here, once on a VTC [video teleconferece],” General Stanley McChrystal told CBS reporter David Martin in a television interview that aired Sunday.
“You’ve talked to him once in 70 days?” Mr. Martin followed up.
“That is correct,” the general replied.
Ben thinks this is evidence of "Obama's -- thus far -- limited personal involvement in the Afghan war." No, it's not. It's Obama's return to normal procedure -- I don't think having the president micromanage a conflict a world away is particularly smart. McChrystal reports to General David Petraeus, who in turn reports up the line of command. The videoconference bit made me recall this Steve Coll article on President Bush's approach to managing wars:
The General’s relationship with Bush proved to be one of the easiest to manage. At least once a week, the General and Ambassador Crocker participated in a videoconference with the President, the Vice-President, General Pace or his deputy, and Admiral William Fallon, Abizaid’s successor at CENTCOM, among others. The video meetings allowed Petraeus and Bush to communicate directly, and they also permitted Bush to avoid ponderous Cabinet-level deliberations by making his intentions on Iraq clear to all of his uniformed commanders simultaneously. Fallon, however, was uneasy about the conferences; the Admiral was Petraeus’s superior, and the videoconferences did not conform to a normal chain of command. Pace supported this approach, as an exigency of war. “For the President to be talking directly to his senior commander in the field makes all the sense in the world in a war where you have the capacity” through video links, he believed. Inexorably, however, tensions developed between Fallon’s command staff, headquartered in Tampa, Florida, and Petraeus’s staff at Victory Base.
Not long after the surge began, for example, Fallon undertook his own independent review of Iraq strategy; he dispatched Vice-Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr., to Iraq to examine the war. Fallon had to balance troop deployments to Iraq with requirements elsewhere in the Middle East and Afghanistan. He questioned whether Petraeus might be able to plan troop reductions on a faster timetable. Petraeus ultimately had his way, but the back-and-forth ratcheted up the pressure on the General’s staff. Petraeus’s aides felt that Fallon should be trying to win support for Iraq from neighboring Middle Eastern governments, not second-guessing their strategy and deployment timetables.
Essentially, bypassing Central Command made it harder for President Bush to weigh the costs and benefits of actions in Iraq against broader U.S. responsibilities around the world -- a troubling loss of perspective that is doubly concerning as Americans begin to face up to the consequences of our long under-resourced conflict in Afghanistan, which was left by the wayside as the government pivoted to focus on Iraq.
-- Tim Fernholz