By most accounts, McChrystal is a sharp and capable military leader. It is not only his prerogative as senior commander in Afghanistan but his job to turn the tide against any and all opposition there -- to seek as long-term and lasting a solution as possible to problems like internal security. To do that, he has outlined a long-term operational strategy and asked for what appears to be essentially as many troops as the Pentagon conceivably might give him.
But the White House has a different role: American grand strategy. It is the executive that is responsible not only for Afghanistan but for balancing American resources across a series of geopolitical challenges, from a resurgent Russia to Iran. The president must decide what he wants to accomplish in Afghanistan, given the spectrum of challenges and what resources can be allocated to that mission.
It should be no surprise that the role and perspective of the senior military commander in Afghanistan and the president of the United States might produce different answers to the question of the appropriate American strategy. Afghanistan is a war that the Obama administration inherited, and the circumstances there have gone from bad to worse to worse yet in only a year's time. Some of the president's closest advisers now appear to be laying the groundwork for a White House decision on the Afghan strategy that does not match with McChrystal's request.