Nonetheless, and this is the damning third point, the fact that it's "just staff officers" talking like this doesn't let McChrystal off the hook. In fact, the story suggests that, on some level (and how serious a level is something for Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to find out), McChrystal's operation is out of control.
In some scenes in the Rolling Stone story, aides make jabs at civilian authority in McChrystal's presence—with, apparently, no approbation or dissent on the general's part. (In a statement issued this morning, McChrystal didn't deny any part of the story; instead, he apologized and expressed "enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team.")
What seems clear is that McChrystal has sown, or in any case tolerates, an atmosphere of disrespect for the civilian chain of command. And the fact that his entourage feels free to talk like this in front of not just him but a reporter—much less a reporter from Rolling Stone—speaks volumes about how far they've burrowed into their cocoon.
Now it's too easy for me, from the safety of my dining room table in a comfortable Twin Cities suburb, to cast aspersions on the command structure of an amazingly complex military operation half a world away. Still, Kaplan's observation seems correct to me. We don't necessarily pay generals to see the bigger picture, but the best ones always do. And while I fully support the notion that one ought to cast a gimlet eye at the governing class, especially the current one, it's always the better course of action to handle your disputes through the chain of command. If McChrystal feels that Obama and his civilian team are incompetent, he ought to resign his commission and then tell the world from outside the command structure. He shouldn't job his concerns out to his underlings and reporters from a magazine that features a pantsless Lady Gaga on the cover.