Assert civilian government, fire McChrystal

by: Chris Bowers

Tue Jun 22, 2010 at 10:14

As you have no doubt heard by now, General Stanley McChrystal,, commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, has trashed the entire civilian national security leadership in a tell-all article (PDF) in Rolling Stone.  McCrystal himself doesn't shy away from that characterization:

I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and it should have never happened. Throughout my career, I have lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity. What is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard.

McChrystal has been summoned to the White House to explain his behavior:

"McChrystal has been directed to attend (Wednesday's) monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan in person to explain to the Pentagon and the commander in chief his quotes in the piece about his colleagues," a White House official said.

There isn't a person in the country who could make derogatory statements about his or her bosses of the sort that appear in this article and keep their job.  If an exception is made for a General, even when talking about the senior civilian national security leadership--including the President-then, to say the least,  it would be difficult to characterize the United States as still operating under civilian government.

We have become a country with a bipartisan consensus that the size and length of troop deployments should be determined by Generals ("I will listen to the commanders on the ground") rather than by Presidents. If Congress were to try and assert its Constitutional authority to end a troop deployment by resolution or by ending funding, well then Congress hates the troops, rather than serving as the legitimate, Constitutional authority on the matter.  If you criticize military leaders in ads, then Congress will take time off from "governing" to pass a resolution condemning you.  And, when spending freezes or cuts are announced, the military is always exempted.

Enough is enough. The United States of America is a civilian government, not a military one. Anyone in the country would be fired for doing what McChrystal just did, and an exception should not be made for him just because he is a General.  No matte the political dangers associated with firing generals (see Truman and Lincoln), the threat of military governance has become real and the line must be drawn here.  Fire McChrystal.

Also (Adam): Just to add, nowhere was the need to assert civilian control clearer than the performance of the military in the Don't Ask Don't Tell debate. From Sec. Gates repeatedly undercutting the Administration's position on repeal, including the infamous Gates/Mullen letter to Chairman Skelton, to his callous statement after his Commander-in-Chief negotiated a compromise to four out of five service chiefs writing Congress on the eve of the repeal vote urging no vote, it was appalling how much power the military has over the Commander in Chief. I hope that dynamic shifts.

Chris Bowers :: Assert civilian government, fire McChrystal

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It would seem that McChrystal -- (4.00 / 8)
a torturer who should be in prison -- is trying to ensure that everyone but him is blamed for the unfolding disaster in Afghanistan.

Of course Obama should fire him -- to do anything less would be to debase himself and, as you say, put the lie to our concept of a civilian run military - - but it doesn't seem likely that our conciliator in chief would do so.  

On terminations (4.00 / 6)
We'll see what happens, but I expect that after a day or two of reflection, the President will offer to have a beer with Joe Biden and General McChrystal. America fired its last political general in 1951, and I'd be very much surprised if it ever fired another one. More to the point, MacArthur's firing was an aberration even at the time.

McChrystal is by no means the first armed psycho to trample on our Constitution and get away with it. Consider the careers of J. Edgar Hoover, or General Curtis LeMay. One used his powers to ruin the lives of hundreds of innocents, intimidate elected officials, and poison our political discourse, and died in office after doing so for almost forty years with complete immunity. The other engaged in covert military confrontations with the Soviet Union on an almost daily basis, and very nearly got us into a nuclear war with them without ever receiving a single reprimand from anyone, let alone a request for his resignation. It was only at the end of a long career in provocation that he ran into Robert McNamara and the Viet Nam War and met his match.

As with the banks, the health care industry, the oil companies, so also with the military. A line from Cameron's The Terminator springs to mind:

That terminator is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

Appropriately, The Terminator was a product of 1984. So is General McChrystal.

J Edgar's "immunity" = "impunity" (4.00 / 4)
I don't usually bother making these corrections, but this particular senior moment was kinda embarrassing. I can't seem to avoid sounding like Leo Gorcey at times, but I'd hate to have anyone think it was intentional.

[ Parent ]
Amen (0.00 / 0)
Fire him now!

He's a dud in every way.

Hmm... (4.00 / 4)
Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

Article 8 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

McChrystal is too big to fail (4.00 / 5)
Obama needs him in Afghanistan and is far too conflict-adverse to do something so bold as fire the guy.

They'll have a private meeting from which everyone will emerge smiling, then say some vague words into a microphone in time to catch the news cycle and the event will pass as if it had never happened.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

Well there might (4.00 / 3)
be a few leaks about the "scolding" Obama gave him.  

[ Parent ]
Of course (4.00 / 1)
Anything to support the illusion that the military is run by civilians. The General will even put on his mopey face and appear chastized.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Put McChrystal on the front lines - litterally ON THE FRONT LINES (4.00 / 1)
Let's put the bastard on the ground and in the most dangerous roles that he routinely forces young Americans into.  

He does not get the benefit of exiting unharmed and moving into Republican/Corporate politics.  Which is HIS plan.

I'd like to see McChrystal defusing bombs - in the heat - under the sun - with no support - except of couse, a book on defusing bombs.  This man should NOT get to run from his failed policy that has killed thousands of innocent civilians and hundreds of our best youth.

His policy? (0.00 / 0)
The military follows orders, they don't set policy -right?

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
I can tell you didn't read .. (0.00 / 0)
the Rolling Stone article(which is up there now .. finally!!)

[ Parent ]
Laying Down A Marker: Short-Term v. Long-Term Strategy (4.00 / 2)
Personally I'd be happy to see McChrystal fired or court-martialed as a demonstration of civilian control of the military.  (Of course I'd also love to see the military budget cut in half but....)

I would not be surprised if Obama's long-term strategy is to get out of Afghanistan.  Remember how he used his policy review last year to get all his top military leaders to 1) sign onto a surge strategy (their idea); 2) sign onto an accelerated timeline for troop buildup (his idea); and 3) sign onto an accelerated timeline for troop withdrawal if indicators of "victory" were not being met (his idea).

Obama may judge that firing McChrystal (or demanding his resignation) would be a short-term distraction (from the Afghanistan War strategy, from financial and energy reform, from a jobs bill), and a long-term negative for getting out of Afghanistan (by providing a rallying figure for his opponents, by providing an excuse for delay [so that the new commander can "assess and improve" the war plan], by providing an opportunity for the narrative of "the president won't let the troops win the war" to gain a foothold.

I could easily be wrong, but if Obama keeps McChrystal and withdraws from Afghanistan on or close to the schedule his military commanders agreed to last year then it will be another example of Obama adopting a long-term strategy and accepting short-term losses to accomplish his goal.

I would be surprised (4.00 / 7)
if Obama's long-term strategy is to get out of Afghanistan.

I don't believe in eleventy-dimension chess or jedi mind tricks. I'll believe he means to get out when I see him get out.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
One can only wonder what David Petraeus is thinking. (4.00 / 4)
I offer no endorsement (don't yell at the messenger), but in the spirit of what the "other side" is saying...

2 links from: Abu Muqawama

Personally, I think McCrystal should be given his retirement package materials the minute Obama sets eyes on him.  But, there is absolutely nothing in Obama's behavior to date to suggest anything of the kind.  The "loyalists" among us (Democratic Party and O-bots) will embrace Andrew Exum's defense as their own.

Dave Anderson sums this up nicely: (4.00 / 3)
McChrystal and his coterie of advisers are thinking about doubling down on a strategy that will not deliver any benefits that are remotely comparable to the projected costs. And to do so, they will rely on the combination of actively concealing the situation in Afghanistan as well as engaging in a targeted PR campaign to build political pressure for continuation of a strategically counterproductive war.

McC and others have been waging this pressure campaign on the WH all along. I tend to think this outburst was merely a part of that. Clearly, he went too far, but he also went too far more than a year ago when he released classified docs to embarrass the administration. But  the bottom line is this is all about preserving the COIN doctrine in the face of growing opposition. So what better way to make their point than by rubbing the VPs face in some humble pie? Worked last time, didn't it?

This is the grand Clauswitzian disconnect of American Counterinsurgency (COIN).  It is a worship of an operational doctrine in lieu of a clear determination of national interests, benefits and costs of various courses of actions.

And there you have it. The rest is all info ops.

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates

[ Parent ]
Very good emocrat, as well written and thought of as I have read. (0.00 / 0)


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Thanks! (0.00 / 0)

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates

[ Parent ]
I suspect this ploy will work again (0.00 / 0)
Obama has enough trouble without asserting his authority over the military. The least controversal thing for the WH to do is paper this over and therefore, that is what they will do.

Besides, if McChrystal stays on, and the war continues to go badly, he can be used as scape-goat. Were Obama to replace him, then the progress (or lack thereof) made becomes all Obama's fault.

There really is no political gain for Obama in canning the General.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Sadly, I have no doubt this is exactly what the WH is thinking. (4.00 / 3)
I'm not sure about the controversy thing, though. I don't see how groveling before Lord Gates helps Obama's image in any way whatsoever. It makes him a door mat and that is a gift that keeps on giving, as I'm sure you appreciate.

But hell yeah on the responsibility thing! I mean, the last thing a sitting president ever wants to do is take command of his wars, right? Well, not this president anyway....  That some kind of "leader" that is solely concerned with avoiding responsibility, eh?

Unfortunately, the issue of canning the general probably doesn't have any big bennies either way. If he sacked him, the upside is people will have to take him seriously and show some respect for his office--but the media will attack him in a most foul and stupid manner. I don't care what the Thugs say. They're idiots.

If he let's him stay, Obama becomes McC's bitch... and I don't see any upside to that at all, except that the media will attack him less. But the entire federal government now knows who's in charge and it isn't Barack Obama. Our president has, in the space of a couple days, morphed from Commander In Chief to Supplicant In Chief. Why bother with all that following orders nonsense now?

Damn if that doesn't look really, really bad.

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates

[ Parent ]
Controversy in the M$M (0.00 / 0)
where the commander in chief is supposed to "listen to the generals on the ground".  

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Oh yes. Forgot that one! (0.00 / 0)

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates

[ Parent ]
ps (4.00 / 2)
If anyone catches a comment from Andrew Bacevich, I'd love to know.

Chris is absolutely correct, of course. (4.00 / 4)
But I wonder about the accuracy of this sentence:

The United States of America is a civilian government, not a military one.

Now, technically, that's still supposedly true. But in operational terms, I just don't see this as reality. Who has more power over the USG than Robert Gates? No one that I can see. He effectively controls 60%+ of the budget, US foreign policy and they've been real busy inserting themselves into domestic policing operations and conduct domestic information ops as a matter of daily practice. Gates has even occasionally stated the need to slash "entitlements" and this is only to pump up his budget even more. So who's really in charge here anyway? This is my question, especially since the WH is constantly telling us they don't actually control anything at all. Not even their own executive branch offices. MMS anyone?

McChrystal's cockiness is shameful, but this incident also just illustrates for all to see what the military establishment thinks of civilian government. Does anyone really doubt that he was just expressing what most flag officers think about civilian leadership in general? It's not like they were all that fond of BushCO either. So in this case, McC's lack of basic manners provides us all with a window into the thinking of that institution, on a certain level.

As for poor, poor Joe Biden. Seriously, the guy is the world's crash test dummy now. The Israeli's dissed him in a massive way and that didn't bother much of anyone--indeed, congress got all pissed off at Biden! But that didn't even bother Joe Biden, so why should anyone show any respect to someone who seems to enjoy being used as a door mat? Chump don't want no help, chump don't get no help.

Maybe if Biden wasn't such a complete blowhard, he might get some respect.

If anyone fires McC, it will be Gates. That's my bet on this. Obama doesn't have it in him. That's too bad, of course, since that will only mean more of this kind of crap to come.

Jeez, after nearly 18 months of this kind of crap coming out of DoD, you'd think maybe it's time to get that house in order, yes?

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates

Just heard on NPR over lunch (0.00 / 0)
that McCrystal has been scheduled to meet with Gates after his PR tour at the WH.  No way to link to those blurbs between shows on the radio, unfortunately.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
No need for links on that. These are formalities. (0.00 / 0)
Hopefully, it will be interesting to see what happens. If McC isn't sternly disciplined (ie, removed from his position and retired), I think it's fair to say this whole episode is just DOD asserting itself in a brazen fashion and McC is merely the messenger.

One thing is pretty clear at this point: between the recent "news" about Afghan minerals and this kerfuffle, the military is quite concerned about having to put out a withdrawal plan. Embarrassing the administration has worked pretty well these last 18 months or so.

Will it work this time?

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly." -Woody Allen, My Speech to the Graduates

[ Parent ]
Jon Soltz (0.00 / 0)
At VoteVets makes a very strong case for the importance of respecting the chain of command and why he must go.

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Fire McChrystal (0.00 / 0)
I usually hesitate to post a comment, because I go to this blog mainly to learn and to see all sides of an issue. That said, I can't resist saying something about this. Granted, whatever Obama does he will be vilified by Republicans whose only desire is to bring him down by whatever means possible; nevertheless he is the President of the United States and as such commands the respect of his subordinates--all of his subordinates including generals with an overblown sense of their own importance. This is still a civilian country, let's keep it that way. Fire McChrystal.


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