By Jamie Stiehm, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal doesn't deserve the dignity of a resignation. Today at the White House, President Obama needs to hand him his proverbial head and send him packing for his outrageous conduct.
Obviously the general and his aides are so used to dissing civilians on a daily basis that they didn't realize how shocking their words would look in print--in Rolling Stone magazine, of all places. As Robert Dallek (the distinguished historian and father of my colleague Matthew) has pointed out, why was a reporter granted that kind of access in the first place? We like letters home from our soldiers, but this was a bit much.
Back in the fall, another pundit wrote that McChrystal, a flashy guy, "skated right on the line of insubordination" when he gave a speech in London demanding an infusion of 40,000 troops in Afghanistan. Some presidents with shorter tempers would have fired him then and there. Then there was this prescient observation:
Chatty generals who share innermost thoughts with reporters didn't learn their civil-military lessons well at West Point. In general, it's best to have the strong, silent type at the army's helm, especially in wartime. That means those who save their confidences and counsel for their boss, the commander in chief, along with Congress.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, our new man in Afghanistan, roundly deserved the rebuke he just received from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates for speaking out of school about his wish for an infusion of 40,000 troops. By going public, the general made a grave military situation all the more politically delicate—doing a disservice to President Barack Obama and the nation in tough times.
Abraham Lincoln, Obama's favorite pol, also had trouble taming a general, George McClellan, who refused to fight Robert E. Lee's army and scorned Lincoln's direct orders to get the Civil War started. Finally, Lincoln fired him.
Obama should lose no time in doing the same. He needs to show the American people Mr. Nice Guy doesn't live here anymore, at the White House.
I wrote those lines in this space because McChrystal was clearly trouble then. He has some kind of military cowboy power complex that cannot be controlled, with a contempt for diplomacy (read: Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry) that the Bush administration did everything to encourage. The shabby shop talk about Eikenberry, an outstanding expert on the political terrain of Afghanistan, is especially inexcusable. That's one big reason why our military is foundering in Afghanistan--again.
Now this for the military. Warriors are not in a special class of their own--and we civilians have to insist on that. Civilian control of the military only works if both sides understand and believe that constitutional mandate. What we read in the lines of Rolling Stone is something mean and deep that goes beyond McChrystal, a top practitioner of military culture--a raw, profane hostility to civilian oversight. That's not the American way.