Obama Is Right to Fire McChrystal, But He's Still Feckless

President Obama and his national security team are in way over their heads.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal is now out of a job, thanks to some unguarded and unflattering comments made about President Barack Obama within earshot of a reporter working on a freelance piece for Rolling Stone. This is as it should be.

[See 10 things you didn't know about Stanley McChrystal.]

There are some who have rallied to McChrystal’s defense, arguing that he was merely “speaking truth to power” and that, had he made similar comments about President George W. Bush, he would have been lionized for his courage. Except that it would not have been right then either.

President Obama, who alluded Wednesday to the constitutional provision guaranteeing civilian control of the U.S. military while announcing that McChrystal had offered his resignation and that he had accepted it, was fundamentally correct on this point. The existence of a functioning chain of command requires that military leaders--especially in time of war--do not act or speak publicly in ways that subvert the authority of the commander-in-chief--which is what McChrystal did, whether he intended to or not.

There are those that see this as a defining moment for Obama. They will argue that, by sacking McChrystal, he has shown a firm hand on the tiller. In fact he has done no such thing.

Let’s stipulate, using what some see as the obvious example, that McChrystal is no Douglas MacArthur. True enough, but Obama is no Harry Truman, who was a vigorous and effective commander-in-chief during the earliest days of the Cold War. Obama’s feckless leadership in the war on terror bespeaks a leader who does not want or know how to win the fight we are in. It is notable, for example, that it took nearly 10months for Obama and McChrystal to meet face-to-face--via a video uplink--after the general called for a significant infusion of troops into Afghanistan. It only took about 10 hours for a meeting to occur once McChrystal’s comments leaked out.

[See photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.]

In selecting Gen. David Petraeus to succeed McChrystal the president has perhaps turned the reins over to the one general who has proven he can lead successfully in the kind of war America finds itself. McChrystal’s comments, even though they forced his resignation, nevertheless reinforce the idea that President Obama and his national security team are in way over their heads. And that’s not a component of a winning strategy, no matter how you slice it.

  • Check out our editorial cartoons on Afghanistan.
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  • See 10 things you didn't know about Stanley McChrystal.