There's never a good time for an American administration to air its dirty laundry in public, but the departure of Gen. Stanley McChrystal amid a flurry of sniping and backbiting comes at a particularly inauspicious moment.
The Afghanistan war effort Gen. McChrystal had been leading—and the strategy he personally devised for it—are entering a crucial few months that may well determine their success or failure. Before being dismissed Wednesday for intemperate remarks about civilian officials, Gen. McChrystal had put in place what most analysts consider the most comprehensive plan of coordinated military action and economic development in eight years of warfare. The troops he persuaded President Barack Obama to dispatch to execute that plan are still arriving.
A rising number of insurgent leaders have been killed or detained recently, and, with U.S. help, the size of Afghan security forces has been ramped up about 30% in the last year.
But in recent days, implementation of the strategy, as well as political support for it, have started to look considerably more shaky. A military push into the city of Marjah hasn't been the success hoped for, and a larger operation in the major city of Kandahar has been put off.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, after briefly reassuring American officials of his reliability, has lately rekindled doubts by firing two cabinet ministers highly regarded in Washington. Allied support is fading; two allied nations plan to pull out next year, and only about a third of the Western military trainers once thought necessary to upgrade Afghanistan's security forces are on the job. American troops in the field have begun to openly question rules of engagement that require a high degree of caution in launching military attacks to avoid civilian casualties.
All that raises questions about how secure Afghanistan will look when parliamentary elections, crucial to broadening the Afghan government's grip, are held in September. Soon after that, allies will reassess their commitment to the war. A bigger political test comes in December when Mr. Obama reviews progress on the ground in anticipation of a July 2011 start to an American drawdown.
Now the troubled war effort proceeds minus Gen. McChrystal, its main architect and the one commander President Karzai appears to really trust.