Obama weighing politics and military reality

President Obama removes McChrystal as commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan on Wednesday after remarks he made in a magazine interview about top administration officials.
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 23, 2010; 11:17 AM

Any moment now, President Obama will make a decision in a situation that presented him with no good choices. The politics may be good, but the military reality is bad.

If his decision is to fire Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the president stands to benefit politically, taking a decisive action that may improve his image as a can-do politician who is not willing to be pushed around.

That benefit is more clear, given the cover that Obama has received in the last 24 hours from members of Congress and others, in both parties, who have largely failed to come to the general's defense.

"It's the president's decision," has been the refrain. And so the White House advisers around Obama can feel fairly secure that Obama will not have partisan critics attacking him if he fires the general.

On the other hand, firing McChrystal poses serious military consequences, none of them good for the fierce fighting in the days ahead.

Pulling McChrystal out of the battlefield means yanking out the architect of the strategy that Obama adopted last December, and removing the man who has become its greatest advocate among soldiers, lawmakers and allies.

The general is not irreplaceable -- as press secretary Robert Gibbs noted Tuesday. But that doesn't mean that removing him won't send ripples across the 100,000 members of the military fighting there, raising questions about the government's commitment to the strategy.

Leaving him in, however, is also fraught with military problems, not the least of which is how to assert the rules of the military against insubordination and respect for chain of command if the general gets away with it.

The White House appears to be preparing for a Rose Garden announcement within the hour, so we should know soon.

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