Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mo McChrystal

The reverberations surrounding the Rolling Stone profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal continue. I've now heard and read quite a lot of commentary on the matter and one meme that has developed seems especially silly to me. Among others, Hugh Hewitt has argued that since the most damaging quotes aren't attributed to McChrystal directly, but rather to his aides, McChrystal should somehow get a pass. Writing in Slate, Fred Kaplan demolishes that meme quite well, I think:

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.

How so?

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.


W.B. Picklesworth said...

I'm just not willing to jump to conclusions on this one. I listened to an audio book of Imperial Grunts by Robert Kaplan earlier this year and I got an appreciation for just how different military culture is, but I'm not a part of it, nor do I pretend to understand it. Is taking potshots at the administration wise in front of a reporter? No. Should I be outraged about it? I don't know.

I'm certainly not angry that they speak disparagingly of the administration. I want them to be clear thinking and this administration is clearly a disaster and hasn't earned any respect. They go out of their way to disrespect, publicly, their opponents. Screw them if people take some pot shots back.

Mr. D said...

Funny you should mention "Imperial Grunts." I read that this year and had the same takeaway -- military culture is very different and necessarily so.

My problem is this: as much as I dislike the arrogance and incompetence of the current administration, they will remain in charge until 2013 at the earliest. Whether the current president merits any respect, once we establish the precedent that our military can publicly ridicule its commander in chief, we will forever undermine all future presidents. And such behaviors embolden our enemies.

There are larger problems, too, but that's another post.

Night Writer said...

Maybe Pres. Obama just asked McChrystal to come to D.C. so he could find out who's ass to kick in Afghanistan.

At any rate, we certainly know who's is going to get kicked now.

K-Rod said...

I don't disagree with what he said, but you don't say it IF you want to keep your job.

Brad Carlson said...

Bottom line: McChrystal was insubordinate and thus it would be well within President Obama's executive purview to fire him.

However, McChrystal seemingly could not get in contact with the President. Unfortunately, it required his speaking out against the Obama administration to get the President's attention.

In hindsight, perhaps McChrystal could have threatened resignation if his communication requests were not met. After all, he's allegedly been held up as the right man for the Afghan effort.

W.B. Picklesworth said...

Mr D, I respect your desire to protect a certain way of doing things; that is, after all, the essence of conservatism. I would suggest that we have a president hell-bent on destroying as much of that as possible. Do we try to protect those ways of doing things if it means granting him respect that he doesn't deserve? I would have been inclined to say yes, but I'm not convinced any longer.

Take the Supreme Court for example. Liberals changed the rules with Bork. Conservatives continued "being a good example" by showing deference. Liberals don't bother.

Obama does not deserve respect. He deserves to be called out as the disaster he is. I'm not entirely comfortable with that since it isn't the way things "should" be, but I'm beginning to think we need greater frankness and clarity if we are to start moving in the right direction.

Gino said...

W B Pickles-che is ready for the revolution.