Why McKiernan Was Replaced

When David McKiernan was summarily fired from his post as commanding general in Afghanistan and replaced by Stan McChrystal, I was shocked. Rajiv Chandrasekaran has a superb insider account in today’s WaPo that fills in some of the gaps.

In my New Atlanticist essay “Behind the Afghanistan Command Change” I analyze the piece.  My conclusion:

It was a sad and perhaps unjustified end to a distinguished military career for McKiernan.  But given the new administration’s new emphasis on Afghanistan — and the sense in Washington that time is running out to make significant progress — it only makes sense to have a team in place that works well together.

Much more at the link.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Brett says:

    Something on the first or second page stuck with me. When the author of the piece (can’t spell his name) wrote that Gates and Mullen got rid of McKiernan for not being the Petraeus mold – i.e. being politically savvy back home as well as in the field – my immediate thought was “do you really want generals who are good at advocating for the wars they’re in charge of?”

    Aside from issues of self-perpetuating war efforts, that sounds like you’d be running the risk of getting another MacArthur – namely, an only moderately competent general who stays on top in spite of multiple flubs because he’s politically savvy.

  2. Wayne says:

    This is a hard one to explain. There is something to be said about having the same team\philosophy and looking for a more diplomatic General, however Washington has more time than not had problems with having those type of Generals trying to run a war. Diplomacy even during war is necessary but can be over emphasize.

    There is little chance regardless of how hard we try to get most of the NATO forces to do what we need them to do. British and Australians as two exceptions to this and they are feeling heat from back home as well. So concessions and what not to try to convince them can end up hurting us more than help.

    Will replacing McKiernan help? I hope so but I am not convinced it will. We can argue at length about the workings between politics and war but that would take book loads to do it right. The skinny for me is Generals need to be mainly concern with winning militarily with enough thought about politics to give the politicians enough cover to do what they need but not much more. Local theater politics is concern as it applies to the last sentence. Politicians are naturally more concern about politics but shouldn’t let that a too great of impact on military objectives. Of course the top commander is a politician which takes a special person not to think of himself first. .

  3. Triumph says:

    When David McKiernan was summarily fired from his post as commanding general in Afghanistan and replaced by Stan McChrystal, I was shocked

    I saw this one coming from mile away. Simply put–B. Hussein the liberal couldn’t handle a general who loved America and knew what he was doing.

    Hussein’s plan is to get us allied with his country of birth by overseeing US failure in A-stan. Everyone knew McKiernan wouldn’t stand for that.

  4. steve says:

    I would think the part about not being able to build strong relationships with Afghans would be pretty damning in a COIN approach. AS long as State is functionally absent and the military has to do everything, your Generals need to be politically adroit.