If Gen. Stanley McChrystal aimed to put the war in Afghanistan back into the American consciousness, his mission has been accomplished.
By one account since the story was published, McChrystal is a political and social liberal. It's possible McChrystal felt comfortable with the nuclear-liberal Rolling Stone magazine following him around.
His aides certainly felt comfortable, providing Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings with 90 percent of his material. Just who were these folks, anyway?
The term "aide," as I understood it when reading the article, could have referred to 20-something sergeants on McChrystal's security detail or high-level staff officers with multiple stars on their collars.
If the red-hot quotes came from the former, McChrystal was guilty of failing to corral some 20-something, loose-lipped troops a dozen rungs underneath him. If the comments came from the latter, McChrystal and his staff were telegraphing Washington their grievances with selectively-leaked, on-background contumely directed at their intra-administration rivals.
Judging from Hastings' comments since the article was published, it was indeed the latter. The article simply recorded what is now obvious, that President Obama's war team is at war with one another — and the story was no accident on McChrystal's part.
Enter Gen. David Petraeus. Stan McChrystal? Who's he?
If there was one takeaway the Obama administration was trying to push amidst Wednesday's theatrics, it was this: That internecine war within Obama's Afghanistan team is over.
A signal of this new hard line came early. When CNN reported Thursday that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had counseled Obama to retain McChrystal, Gates retreated and insisted that he supported Obama's decision.
Hitherto, this team of rivals will move forward with one common purpose without a hint of dissent.
Will the harmony, or at least the facade of harmony, last? Not likely.
In 12 months, the team will decide how many troops to withdraw from Afghanistan. On one end is Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who made plain his opposition to President Obama's surge in troops during the White House's 2009 strategy debate. On the other end, I suspect, is Petraeus.
The parties who sparred with McChrystal — Eikenberry, U.S. Special Envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke and National Security Advisor Jim Jones — remain at their posts.
Those who assume they will play along more nicely with Petraeus ignore recent history. Petraeus has butted heads with teammates before.
As a two-star commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division, he sparred with ambassador L. Paul Bremer, then the top U.S. civilian administrator in post-Saddam Iraq.
He fiercely resisted Bremer's efforts to fire every civil servant who had registered with Saddam's Ba'ath party, including school teachers.
As the top general in Iraq, according to multiple reports, Petraeus had a deeply toxic relationship with U.S. Central Command commander Adm. William Fallon, relations one unnamed source in the Washington Post compared to "Armageddon."
Yet this tour is different for Petraeus. He holds the political capital. He is the only member of Obama's Afghanistan team who has defeated a seemingly intractable insurgency. Petraeus has credibility.
If Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, the pace of withdrawal will be the next flashpoint. Obama’s Afghanistan team will need to come to a decision — really, this time — over how quickly to withdraw troops in Afghanistan. The decision will need to have the full-throated endorsement of Petraeus. Really, this time.
The Republicans will rush to Petraeus' defense if Obama orders a quicker drawdown than he is comfortable with — and as we well know, on national security issues, Obama protects his administration's right flank like a 350-pound left tackle protects his quarterback's blind side.
Petraeus also provides Obama cover, a fact not likely lost inside the White House. If he alone decides that the Afghan government is hopeless, and no U.S. strategy can save it from itself, then his support behind a hastened pullout will undercut any GOP allegations that "Obama lost the war in Afghanistan."
ABOUT THE WRITER
Thomas L. Day is a Macon Telegraph reporter and was a McClatchy correspondent in Kabul, Afghanistan, in December of 2009 and January of 2010. He is also the author of "Along the Tigris: The 101st Airborne Division in Operation Iraqi Freedom," which profiles Gen. David Petraeus as a two-star general.