Anyone who's been paying any attention for the past 10 years knows that Afghanistan is an intractable, solution-free mess. Certainly, General McChrystal had figured it out -- probably well before the 60 Minutes interview in which he insisted America could succeed there. (Funny how neither he nor anybody else -- on the right or left -- has been able to define what "success" in Afghanistan would look like.)
Pundits keep insisting that Vietnam is very different than Afghanistan. Say what? As far as American involvement, they are two peas in the same historical pod. American soldiers are in a hostile environment full of unimaginable poverty, in a culture that couldn't be more different than our own. They have no idea who is friend or foe. Trained to be warriors, they are asked to be social workers, educators, engineers and sociologists -- all in languages none of them speak. Anyone remember "Vietnamization?" "Hearts and Minds?" Replace Vietcong with the Taliban, and it might as well be 1968.
I think the General knew exactly what he was doing by talking so brazenly with Rolling Stone. For all of his bluster about intimidating Obama, McChrystal realized the President's July 2011 date for start of a draw-down was for real, and this foreclosed on any possibility, already remote, that the mission could be successful during his tenure. Counter-insurgency requires the complete transformation of a country -- at $200 billion per year, minimum. The writing on the wall of our departure is not in blood, but in the red ink of ballooning deficits. McChrystal had a choice: Go down with the ship, being remembered forever as the General who "lost" Afghanistan; or be fired, with plenty of time to rewrite the narrative of why he really left before the debacle comes to its inevitable end.
It can't have escaped the General's notice that what used to be career suicide these days can be the exact opposite. In a logical political universe, Sarah Palin would be a Trivial Pursuit question by now. Instead she proved that quitting while you're in place can be the quickest route to getting ahead.
McChrystal's politics supposedly hates Fox News, but it wouldn't surprise me at all to hear his name bandied about as a potential Republican V.P. candidate in 2012, or maybe even a Democratic challenger from the right to Obama himself. Either Petraeus will fail in Kabul, and McChrystal can play the "if only Obama had let me finish the job" card; or Petraeus will succeed, and McChrystal can trumpet his counter-insurgency strategy as loosening the lid of the jar so it could be twisted off. Either way, his future is probably rosier than it would have been had he made nicey-nice with Michael Hastings and told his staff to do the same.
The one thing McChrystal can depend on is that the memory of the electorate is incredibly short. This spring and summer belong to BP -- it's an excellent time to accidentally-on-purpose get yourself fired for a job that is almost guaranteed to end very badly.
Something tells me this old soldier won't fade away. This just might be the beginning of intermission.