Gates fires the top American commander in Afghanistan.

Gates fires the top American commander in Afghanistan.

Gates fires the top American commander in Afghanistan.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 12 2009 6:36 AM

Changing Afghan Warhorses in Midstream

The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal's world-wide news box lead with the firing of the top American commander in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced yesterday that he had requested the resignation of Gen. David McKiernan, who had been in the job for less than a year, because the Pentagon needs "fresh thinking" and "fresh eyes" on Afghanistan. McKiernan will be replaced by Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the director of the Pentagon's Joint Staff who recently ran the secretive special operations forces in Iraq. McChrystal has lots of experience in counterinsurgency operations and is widely expected to quickly institute changes to U.S. and NATO strategy in Afghanistan. Replacing a four-star commander of a war zone is exceedingly rare, and several papers mention that it looks like it's the first time this has happened since President Harry Truman removed Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War.

USA Todaygoes high with the ousting of McKiernan but leads with the five U.S. service members who were killed by a fellow soldier at a counseling center in Baghdad. None of the other papers front the news, even though the slayings appear to amount to the deadliest episode of violence between U.S. service members since the start of the Iraq war. "It does speak to me about the need for us to redouble our efforts in terms of dealing with the stress," Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said. There's word that the shooter might have been a patient at the clinic, but investigations are ongoing.

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The LAT notes that "Gates has ousted a succession of top military officials since becoming Defense secretary," but McKiernan is the first ground commander he has fired. Gates made it clear that the move would "probably" end McKiernan's military career. While many military officers praised McKiernan, they also said he was reluctant to change tactics and slow to implement strategies that have had success in Iraq. "Gen. McKiernan is a good man," said a retired Army general. "But he was the wrong man at the wrong time."

The decision to oust McKiernan comes after what the LAT says were months of complaints from military officers about the U.S. command in Afghanistan. The WSJ hears word that the decision was made "after a behind-the-scenes campaign by an influential group of current and former military officers, many of whom played key roles developing and backing the Bush administration's troop 'surge' in Iraq." Ultimately, Gates and many top advisers thought McKiernan, who spent his entire military career with conventional forces, didn't have the right experience for the job. ("McKiernan's ouster signals a dramatic shift in U.S. strategy for the war in Afghanistan," writes Slate's Fred Kaplan. "And it means that the war is now, unequivocally, 'Obama's war.' ")

The WP highlights that there were particular complaints about McKiernan's reluctance to create U.S.-backed local militias that had been a key factor in reducing violence in Iraq. And the LAT notes that McKiernan tried his best to not anger allies by sticking to a NATO campaign plan, even though many thought it had become "outdated and ineffective." McChrystal and Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who will now manage day-to-day U.S. troops in Afghanistan, have lots of experience with counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare. McChrystal oversaw the commando teams that captured Saddam Hussein and killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

The NYT and LAT front, and everyone covers, news that the Iranian-American journalist who had been convicted of spying in Iran and sentenced to eight years in prison was released yesterday. Roxana Saberi had been in jail since January, and the Obama administration had been speaking up to try to secure Saberi's release. Last month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for a careful review of the case in what the NYT says might have been a bid to try to improve relations with the United States before the June elections. The LAT takes it a bit further and says that while the arrest shows the Iranian system remains unpredictable, it's at least "capable of flexibility, pragmatism and even damage control." Ahmadinejad's press adviser cryptically declared: "Maybe we want people to read into this."

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The WP takes an interesting look at how more than two years after a United Nations weapons expert was nearly killed by an explosion in his hotel bedroom, it's still unclear what happened. A U.N. colleague was initially implicated, but infighting between different U.N. agencies throughout the investigations has led to a stalemate. Meanwhile, both men lost their jobs and their reputations "with virtually no hope of having their names cleared." This case may be particularly dramatic, but it's really just another example of how the U.N. is often unable to police its own staff. More than 850 peacekeepers have been sent home since 2006 after they were implicated in wrongdoing, but the vast majority of the cases remain unsolved.

The WP goes inside with e-mails that seem to suggest Robert Murtha may have exploited his influential family connections to get millions of dollars' worth of Pentagon contracts. Robert Murtha insists his uncle, Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, had nothing to do with the contracts. But some correspondence suggests that may be far from the truth. In one e-mail, Robert Murtha writes about the importance of sending some federal work through his uncle's hometown. And some people who used to work with him say Murtha's companies were often able to maintain their share of big contracts even though the work they did was ultimately unnecessary.

In the WSJ's op-ed page, Andy Kessler writes that the recent increase in the stock market "sure smells to me like a sucker's rally." The Dow Jones industrial average has surged 30 percent from its low of more than two months ago, but there "aren't sustainable, fundamental reasons for the market's continued rise." There are several reasons that could explain the recent rise in stock prices, but the "stock market still has big hurdles to clear." Even though, as analysts never tire of saying, it's possible to have a "jobless recovery" it's impossible to "have a profitless recovery."

Anthony Cordesman writes in the WP's op-ed page that Iraq "now risks becoming the 'forgotten war.' " Many seem to be in a rush to declare victory and get out as soon as possible, but that may lead to losing "both the ongoing war and the peace that could follow." While it's true that much of the country's future depends on Iraqis, that doesn't mean the Obama administration shouldn't be doing everything possible to make sure the recent gains are sustainable. Although the steps will undoubtedly mean more American lives and money will be lost, the ultimate price tag "will be far lower than the mid- to long-term cost of throwing away a high probability of leaving Iraq with lasting security and stability." It's imperative that the United States not make the same mistake as in Vietnam and actually come up with a strategy to leave Iraq, not only for the country's sake but also to ensure the stability of the Persian Gulf. "In strategic terms, Vietnam was always expendable," writes Cordesman. "Iraq and the Gulf are not."

The NYT takes a look at how writers and publishers are seeing an increase in pirated digital editions of books online. Musicians and filmmakers have been here before, but "to authors and their publishers in the age of Kindle, its new and frightening territory." Illegal copies of best-sellers are hardly a new phenomenon, but publishers insist their numbers are rising as consumers get more used to the idea of e-books. Several authors say they are fighting a seemingly endless battle for their work by going after those who post their words on the Internet. "It's a game of Whac-a-Mole," an author said. "You knock one down and five more spring up." It's precisely for this reason that others say they can't be bothered. "The question is, how much time and energy do I want to spend chasing these guys," Stephen King wrote in an e-mail message. "And to what end? My sense is that most of them live in basements floored with carpeting remnants, living on Funions and discount beer."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.