Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The McChrystal Crisis

Yesterday I posted the following Facebook status regarding General Stanley McChrystal's soon-to-be-published criticisms of the Obama administration.

America has a long history of hubristic generals being insubordinate to their civilian commanders (i.e., the president). In the 1860s you had George McClellan and Abraham Lincoln; in the 1950s you had Douglas MacArthur and Harry Truman; now we have Stanley McChrystal and Barack Obama. Hopefully Obama knows enough about history to realize that, like Lincoln and Truman before him, he must fire McChrystal.

Matthew Rozsa
I just realized that the last sentence in that status update was grammatically flawed. Technically, what I wrote there implies that Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman had to both fire Stanley McChrystal; what I meant to write, of course, was that each of them had to fire the insubordinate military leaders from their own respective periods of history. Most people probably didn't notice this gaffe, but since I am so quick to jump on mistakes like this when they're made by others, integrity requires me to forthrightly acknowledge my own error.

Jim Chambers
George McClellan ain't worthy of sniffing MacArthur's jock.

Matthew Rozsa
I actually agree with you there, Jim. McClellan was a terrible military strategist whose out-of-whack ego wrote checks that his limited brainpower couldn't cash, and who was inexcusably timid in deploying his forces when circumstances called for it; MacArthur, on the other hand, is more responsible than any other single figure for winning the Pacific Theater during World War II and reconstructing Japan into the economically prosperous capitalist democracy that it is today.

Even so, for the purposes of the point being made above, the comparison between McClellan and MacArthur remains apt. Both men were grossly insubordinate to their respective presidents - McClellan during the Civil War and MacArthur during the Korean War - which is why both, at the end of the day, needed to be relieved of duty. If Barack Obama is smart and demonstrates the proper cojones, he will follow in the example of Lincoln and Truman, in this case by sending McChrystal packing.

Although my political support for President Obama is well-known, my reason for feeling that he needs to fire General McChrystal goes much deeper than that. Civilian control over our military establishment is key to the maintenance of American freedom; the instant leaders in our armed forced are permitted to engage in disrespectful and/or defiant action against their non-military superiors, a precedent is established whereby the mechanisms of democratic government are subjugated to the whims of the brass.


This article was written before President Obama's announcement today that he would indeed remove Stanley McChrystal from his post. His rationale was basically the same as mine:

"The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our Democratic system. And it erodes the trust that’s necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan."

1 comment:

Max said...

Hi Matt,

Very incisive article on why McChrystal should go. I thought you might be interested in hearing the opposing point of view, i.e. that he should stay. Here is a link to Keith Olbermann's SPECIAL COMMENT on the matter last night. I think it is an interesting take as to why Obama should keep the general in Afghanistan.

Like you said, just a thought.