The more I learn about the insubordination America's top commander in Afghanistan displayed in full view of a Rolling Stone writer, the more I think any American president would fire him. But the more I think about Gen. Stanley McChrystal's motives and President Obama's approach to power and people, the more I think Obama will spare him and own him.
Trashing the president, the vice president, the National Security Advisor, and others may not have been premeditated. But, if the executive editor of Rolling Stone is to be believed, the insubordination was at least post-meditated. As you can see in this clip, McChrystal reportedly did not dispute his quotes or push back against the story during the magazine's fact-checking process.
So what's McChrystal doing?
Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, said on his MSNBC show this morning that "(McChrystal) thinks Afghanistan's going to fail and he's going to go out with guns blazing."
Whether true or not, Scarborough's assessment jumped out at me because it matches what my own gut tells me about this. McChrystal's actions are at the very least consistent with a man who wants to be able to get out before his own Afghanistan architecture can collapse on top of him. They are consistent with a man who wants to be able to say that America's Afghanistan policy would have worked if the president had just let him stay, if the president had accepted his apology, if the president hadn't been so thin-skinned as to put his own ego above the safety of troops and the success of the mission. They are consistent with a man who imagines he can go into politics.
Obama will know all this, will anticipate all the consequences of firing McChystal, of giving McChrystal exactly what McChrystal may be aiming for. The title of this post borrows from Obama's so-called "race speech" in Philadelphia during the 2008 campaign:
And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions - the good and the bad - of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.
I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.
If given another chance, McChrystal may prove to be as persistently incautious as Rev. Wright. If so, Obama will surgically remove him in the same way he did Wright. But McChrystal might do the right thing, too. He might stay. He might realize that further indiscretion and insubordination would make his motives and his reputation-saving retreat transparent and repulsive to the American people.
Obama made Hillary Clinton his secretary of state, putting all that she said during the campaign behind him, her, and the country. Obama can do the same thing with McChrystal. If he does, he should emerge with a tighter grip on McChrystal than he would enjoy over any commander who might be brought in to take over in Afghanistan.
As I wrote last night, "firing a contrite McChrystal over this would be very unlike Obama. People owe him when he sees past boneheadedness."
That's equally true if the "contrite McChrystal" is only playing at contrition and apology. As I write this, McChrystal has been pulled out of Afghanistan to appear at the White House.
For more on this mess, see Andrew Sullivan and Thomas Ricks and Andrew Exum. I've only just now spotted the Sullivan and skimmed it before posting and getting on with my day. I notice that at the end Sullivan writes, "we will never win unless we devote far more resources and many more decades to neo-imperial control than America can afford and than the American and British publics will tolerate. Maybe deploying McChrystal to do his best - and still fail - will be the only way of proving this. Which is why this incident is actually, to my mind, a good thing."
Huffington Post blogger David Quigg lives in Seattle. This piece originally appeared on his personal blog, too many Daves.