This DOD photo shows Defense Secretary Gates taking leave of Afghanistan and shaking hands with U.S. Commander McKiernan having informed him of his firing three days before. In retrospect — the announcement of the General’s fate still several days off — the photo seems like overkill, the two men offering quite a show of solidarity, the clasp reinforced by the shadow clasp and even the visual sense of the men connected by way of the powerful aircraft engine.
On the contrary however, the outright firing of McKiernan sends a blatant and unceremonious message. According to the NYT: “Pentagon officials said it appeared that General McKiernan was the first general to be dismissed from command of a theater of combat since Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War.” It certainly seems McKiernan is taking a very public hit from Team Obama/Gates/Petraeus for a war that has been suffering conflicts with NATO, bad PR over civilian casualties and, now apparently, a strategy acknowledged as going nowhere.
Looking at the picture again, however, division is as much a theme. What is probably the attempt to speak over the engine noise offers us a strained-looking McKiernan trying to have some truly parting words while split from the Secretary by the groove running through the tarmac, and the handshake.
(image: U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison/DOD. caption: U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates thanks U.S. Army Gen. David McKiernan, commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan and NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, after visiting Field Operating Base Airborne in the Wardak province, Afghanistan, May 8, 2009. photo essay: Gates Visits Field Operating Base Airborne, Afghanistan )