Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

General McChrystal called on the carpet

General Stanley McChrystal is facing a firestorm over his controversial interview with Rolling Stone magazine (whiskey-foxtrot-tango?) and has been ordered to the White House, from Kabul, to explain himself, and get a dressing down from the president:

The top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has been summoned to the White House to explain biting and unflattering remarks he made to a freelance writer about President Barack Obama and others in the Obama administration.

The face-to-face comes as pundits are already calling for
McChrystal to resign for insubordination.

McChrystal has been instructed to fly from Kabul to Washington today to attend Obama’s regular monthly
security team meeting tomorrow at the White House.

An administration official says McChrystal was asked to attend in person rather than by secure video teleconference, “where he will have to explain to the Pentagon and the commander in chief his quotes about his colleagues in the piece.”

Both Defense Secretary
Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have spoken with McChrystal. Capt. John Kirby, a spokesman for Mullen, said “the chairman spoke to General McChrystal last night and expressed his deep disappointment with the article and with the comments expressed therein.”

First, let me say that Rolling Stone is hardly the place to vent. After all, the magazine is barely more than a rag akin to the Arizona Republic (or Arizona Repugnant, if you live in Arizona, and know the paper as well as we do). That said, there's an unwritten rule in the military that you take up such matters in private, and if privacy isn't available, you bite your tongue, and keep your opinions to yourself. So, McChrystal screwed up on that particular point. However, the people calling for his head on a platter seem to forget that Barry doesn't exactly have a plethora of counter-terror/counter-insurgency experts to choose from.

General Stanley McChrystal was credited with taking out Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, and his career has been exemplary as an Airborne Ranger. The man helped create the counter-insurgency strategy used in Iraq for the Surge, and he has carried much of that over to Afghanistan. So, if relieved of his command, Barry will be hard-pressed to find a suitable replacement. The question remains "Does this amount to insubordination?" The link to the Rolling Stone article is here. HT to Captain Ed for the link.

Taking the advice of both the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he also fired Gen. David McKiernan – then the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan – and replaced him with a man he didn’t know and had met only briefly: Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It was the first time a top general had been relieved from duty during wartime in more than 50 years, since Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur at the height of the Korean War.

Even though he had voted for Obama, McChrystal and his new commander in chief failed from the outset to connect. The general first encountered Obama a week after he took office, when the president met with a dozen senior military officials in a room at the Pentagon known as the Tank. According to sources familiar with the meeting, McChrystal thought Obama looked “uncomfortable and intimidated” by the roomful of military brass. Their first one-on-one meeting took place in the Oval Office four months later, after McChrystal got the Afghanistan job, and it didn’t go much better.

“It was a 10-minute photo op,” says an adviser to McChrystal. “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. Here’s the guy who’s going to run his f*cking war, but he didn’t seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed.”

[I censored the language above.] Captain Ed is correct: This sort of criticism is reserved for memoirs, or after one leaves the service; it's not for when one is still serving the current Commander-in-Chief. You can despise Barry all you want, and believe me we do, but there is a certain professionalism and decorum when you're a serving commander of military forces that's called for when it comes to speaking of the president. More:

Now, flipping through printout cards of his speech in Paris, McChrystal wonders aloud what Biden question he might get today, and how he should respond. “I never know what’s going to pop out until I’m up there, that’s the problem,” he says. Then, unable to help themselves, he and his staff imagine the general dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner.

“Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal says with a laugh. “Who’s that?”

“Biden?” suggests a top adviser. “Did you say: Bite Me?” ...

McChrystal reserves special skepticism for Holbrooke, the official in charge of reintegrating the Taliban. “The Boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” says a member of the general’s team. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous. He’s a brilliant guy, but he just comes in, pulls on a lever, whatever he can grasp onto. But this is COIN, and you can’t just have someone yanking on shit.”

At one point on his trip to Paris, McChrystal checks his BlackBerry. “Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke,” he groans. “I don’t even want to open it.” He clicks on the message and reads the salutation out loud, then stuffs the BlackBerry back in his pocket, not bothering to conceal his annoyance.“Make sure you don’t get any of that on your leg,” an aide jokes, referring to the e-mail. ...

Part of the problem is structural: The Defense Department budget exceeds $600 billion a year, while the State Department receives only $50 billion. But part of the problem is personal: In private, Team McChrystal likes to talk shit about many of Obama’s top people on the diplomatic side. One aide calls Jim Jones, a retired four-star general and veteran of the Cold War, a “clown” who remains “stuck in 1985.” Politicians like McCain and Kerry, says another aide, “turn up, have a meeting with Karzai, criticize him at the airport press conference, then get back for the Sunday talk shows. Frankly, it’s not very helpful.” Only Hillary Clinton receives good reviews from McChrystal’s inner circle. “Hillary had Stan’s back during the strategic review,” says an adviser. “She said, ‘If Stan wants it, give him what he needs.’ ”

Is this insubordination? No, not by my reading. Insubordination, as defined by the Uniform Code of Military Justice is:


Any warrant officer or enlisted member who--

(1) strikes or assaults a warrant officer, noncommissioned officer, or petty officer, while that officer is in the execution of his office;

(2) willfully disobeys the lawful order of a warrant officer, noncommissioned officer, or petty officer; or

(3) treats with contempt or is disrespectful in language or deportment toward a warrant officer, noncommissioned officer, or petty officer while that officer is in the execution of his office;

Nothing in this applies to the president. It applies to officers the person serves with. What McChrystal did falls under Article 89 of the UCMJ:


Any person subject to this chapter who behaves with disrespect toward his superior commissioned officer shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

Or, more likely, under Article 88 of the UCMJ [emphasis mine]:


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.

General McChrystal may be brought up on Article 88 charges, and be court-martialed for it. He clearly did exactly that in this article (at least his aides did in recounting what the general supposedly said in closed quarters), but if what has been relayed is true, McChrystal is guilty of this charge.

I'll be blunt: We don't like the president. We think he's an incompetent rookie that couldn't find his @$$ in the dark with both hands and a flashlight. However, when you take the oath in the military, it's expected that you will follow the orders of the duly-elected president who is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, and if you have a beef with him, you bring it up to him directly, and privately. You don't criticize him publicly. That's a no-no. Every military veteran we know, and every serving soldier we know, will not publicly criticize the president. They may not like him, and they may tell us that in private, but they're not going to go spouting off, in public, how much they dislike him. They understand the necessity for unanimity in the military and in the chain of command. They also understand that such things, when said in public, could very well affect the morale of soldiers they serve with or serve over. That is unacceptable. McChrystal should have known better, and apparently he didn't.

A court-martial would be in order. But his removal from command would be asinine. The pundits calling for his head need to shut up. A reprimand should be in his record, and that should be the end of this little issue. If the president demands his resignation, he's cutting off his nose to spite his face, and he's feeding his already overblown ego.

That won't serve the troops well in Afghanistan, nor will it win him any serious support (other than lip service) from the troops in the region that continue to fight this war.

Publius II


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