Obama's Truman/MacArthur Moment

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan, has been called to Washington after a Rolling Stone magazine article in which the general was openly critical of the Obama administration.

In the article, McChrystal and his staff mock senior administration officials, including the Vice President, Richard C. Holbrooke, Obama’s senior envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry and national security adviser (and retired general) James Jones.  One of McChrystal’s aides referred to Jones as “a clown.”

Last year, Gen. McChrystal gave a speech in which – with a veiled reference to Vice President Biden – he criticized those who advocated a scaled-back presence in Afghanistan.

McChrystal has apologized for his remarks: “Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity,” the general said. “What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard.”

Despite his long and valued service to this country, President Obama should fire Gen. McChrystal.

I appreciate the general’s feelings about the political interference in conducting a difficult military campaign and I prefer commanders be given the ultimate authority in prosecuting battle objectives.  But he works at the pleasure of the Commander-in-Chief and it is his job to salute that authority and not publicly criticize the chain of command.

Although McChrystal is responsible for his own remarks and those of his staff, I put quite a bit of blame squarely on Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.  It is Gates’ job to take his commanders concerns to the President and lobby for what they need to win and save the lives of our troops.  McChrystal should not have to express his frustrations in print or speeches, that is for the Secretary of Defense to do in the Oval Office.

In 1951, President Truman dismissed Gen. Douglas MacArthurfor making public statements that contradicted the official policies of the United States Government, especially with regard to Truman’s 6 December 1950 order to restrict military interaction with the media.”  It was not a popular decision for several reasons, primary among them being Truman’s low ratings with the public and MacArthur’s very high popularity.  MacArthur, a five-star general, hero of the Pacific Theater in World War II and one of America’s most highly decorated soldiers (including the Medal of Honor), was a vocal, yet pompous military strategist.  But Truman could not let his commanders – his subordinates – undermine his constitutional authority with public diatribes.

Barack Obama is in precisely the same situation as Harry Truman nearly 60 years ago.  No matter what ones opinion is of whose idea for prosecuting the war is correct and without regard for political philosophies and party affiliations, the President of the United States cannot – should not – be challenged in public by his military leaders.  Those discussions are to occur in private and differences hammered out between the soldiers and the politicians.  At the end of those exchanges, the military salutes the Commander-in-Chief and executes the orders as given.  If there is serious enough disagreement, the commander(s) can asked to be relieved or, as is their choice, resign.

It is more than unacceptable for the military to openly confront civilian authority, it’s dangerous.  It makes our allies uncomfortable and our enemies emboldened.

Gen. McChrystal’s behavior cannot be tolerated and, sadly, I believe he should be fired.

/CS/

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13 comments

  1. The word down range is that he’s toast but we are dealing with President Obama here.

    I think he must be fired as well.

    In some ways, his firing may make USFOR-A / ISAF a more effective organization. They have a highly developed sense of “us against the world” here. Many on the senior staff believe that they are a power unto themselves and fail to realize that being in the the US Army is playing a team sport rather than playing on a private playground.

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  2. Joe F:

    I don’t get your attitude.

    Julius Caesar turned Rome from a Republic into an empire. Is that comparable to George Washington helping us, under the civilian government we set up, seceding from Great Britain?

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  3. Tommy, my friend, you’re a real intelligent guy, but I’ve known Joe F for a long time and I won’t get into an argument about history with him. Nope. Not me. Not ever.

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  4. I’ve read the article and find it interesting that this has caused such a stir. It’s obvious to me that Rolling Stone has much larger issues with the President and the prosecution of the Afghan campaign than does the General. Further, most (if not all) of the derogitory swipes at the chain of command came as part of normal chatter within an organization. The real problem was with the assigned information officer (an Obama Appointee?) allowing such unfettered access to this group of men. The President however missed his opportunity to minimize the article for exactly what it was (essentially a puff piece) when it first surfaced.

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