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General Discontent October 5, 2009

Posted by Kate Ryan in Afghanistan, Constitution, George Bush, National Politics, Obama Administration, Politics.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

GenMcChrystal_previewI saw an interesting roundtable discussion on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” yesterday morning.  The discussion topic was Afghanistan and Commanding General Stanley McChrystal’s comments in London late last week.  When asked if he could support a new Afghan policy of more hands-off engagement via unmanned drones and special forces operations, McChrystal bluntly answered no. 

“Waiting does not prolong a favorable outcome,” McChrystal stated.  ” This effort will not remain winnable indefinitely, and nor will public support.”

Apparently, the White House was not pleased.

During the ABC discussion, conservative columnist George Will (who recently advocated such a policy) defended McChrystal by saying that since the Obama administration did not seem to have a strategy for Afghanistan, General McChrystal gallantly stepped into the breach and gave his commentary.  Will made it seem as thought there was nothing wrong with that. 

Thank goodness for Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation magazine.  Vanden Heuvel said that she thought that what McChrystal had done “forces us to think very seriously and in a hard way about civilian control of the military.”  She further said that McChrystal should refamiliarize himself with article two of the Constitution that makes the President commander-in-chief.   

The other members of the panel were not having any of it.  As George Will gazed patronizingly at vanden Huevel, Cokie Roberts said that she thinks that McChrystal understands who the commander-in-chief is; all he was trying to do was influence the President’s decision, like everyone else is, as though he has a right to do so.

Wrong!  As any man or woman who has ever served in the military can tell you, your right to free speech ends the day you are sworn in.  The person who is higher in rank is NEVER questioned publicly.  The Commander-in-Chief is the highest ranking official of all, yet here we have McChrystal, Petraeus, and Admiral Mullin publicly stating that any policy that the President comes up with is unsupportable unless it involves committing more troops. 

During the Bush administration, the concept of civilian military control was severely damaged.  By their insistence that the President must “listen to the Generals on the ground”,  the Bush White House blurred the concepts of “listening to” and “following blindly” military recommendations.  This lexicon has made it into every day conversation and has infected the public debate. 

Given that broad strategic decisions, such as the decision to declare a war, start an invasion, or end a conflict, have a major impact on the citizens of the country, they are seen by civilian control advocates as best guided by the will of the people (as expressed by their political representatives), rather than left solely to an elite group of tactical experts. The military serves as a special government agency, which is supposed to implement, rather than formulate, policies that require the use of certain types of physical force.  Every General of every army wants more troops.  Perhaps they’re right, perhaps they’re wrong  – but a request for increased troop strength will always be the military strategy of first choice.  Yes, the President should listen, but the President also has to make policies that make sense for the millions of Americans who are not in the military. 

In April of 1951, President Harry Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur for insubordination.  MacArthur’s crime was to first send letters to congressional leaders disagreeing with President Truman’s policy and second, to deliver an ultimatum to the Chinese army that countermanded Truman’s policies.  George Will said that McChrystal’s comments did not rise to the level of a firing offense.  No?  A Commanding General publicly disagrees with the policies of the White House on foreign soil should be toast.

I have to say, I thought McChrystal should have “retired” when he did the “60 Minutes” interview a few weeks ago.  I certainly think he needs to be let go now.  A message needs to be sent throughout the military that there will be no more interviews, no more speeches, and no more free speech until they are retired. 

Then they can go on Fox News as analysts….



1. jonolan - October 5, 2009

Sadly, both sides of the argument are right.

Obama’s gross incompetence brought this about and Gen. McChrystal did absolutely the right thing and in the right way, it being the only way to get Obama’s wandering attention. Yet, it IS a “firing offense” and should remain so, because it sets a very bad precedence.

It’s a sad day for the remains of America that valiant General must fall on his sword in order to protect the troops placed under his command. 😦

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