Today President Obama accepted the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan. He was absolutely correct to do so.
The remarks of General McChrystal, and particularly members of his staff, to a Rolling Stone reporter showed stunningly poor judgment and in some instances were scornful and wholly inappropriate. As President Obama noted in his remarks today, such insubordinate comments simply cannot be tolerated because they undermine the principle of civilian control that lies at the heart of America’s military-political command structure.
The President named General David Petraeus to replace General McChrystal as commander of the Afghan war effort, and it was immediately a popular choice. General Petraeus has enormous credibility, in Congress and in the country at large, due to his extraordinarily successful work in engineering the “surge” in Iraq.
It is wonderful to have such an excellent replacement at hand — but the President should have sacked General McChrystal even if General Petraeus were not available and willing to serve. Success in the Afghan war is important, but not nearly so crucial as maintaining the salutary concept of strict civilian control over the military. President Lincoln fired the grossly insubordinate General McClellan at a desperate time during the Civil War, when the very survival of the Union hung in the balance. President Lincoln made the right decision then, and President Obama made the right decision today.
President Obama’s protracted consideration of a new Afghanistan strategy is a bit puzzling. Obviously, the decision on whether, and if so how, to fight overseas is a critical decision that you would expect would command the President’s careful attention. Nevertheless, it is odd that the President approved an Afghan strategy in March and now appears to be very publicly reconsidering that strategy. Candidly, I think Presidents are ill-served by public decision-making processes, which often make them look indecisive. A better approach is to consider the strategy privately and then, when the weighing and balancing has been completed, to announce the new approach.
I know that General McChrystal has been criticized for a speech he gave, in which he expressed his views on options that the President may be considering. I agree with the sentiment that the military should express its views through the chain of command — although American history is riddled with politically ambitious generals, from Jackson to McClellan to MacArthur. I think General McChrystal can be excused his misstep, however, in view of the very public nature of the strategizing, where other participants, like Vice President Biden, are openly trumpeting their proposed alternative approaches.
I certainly hope that President Obama is not seriously considering adopting a half-baked, politically motivated “Biden strategy” over a “McChrystal strategy.” In that regard, I agree with the conclusions articulated in this piece. I think Joe Biden is one of the most overrated, underachieving political figures of the past 30 years –a blabbermouth, a windbag, a narcissist, shallow and unprincipled. It is bad enough that President Obama selected Biden as his running mate; it would be an appalling indictment of the President’s judgment if he actually followed Biden’s advice.