Wednesday, June 23, 2010

General McChrystal-Insubordination Or Open Revolt?

Their intentions might be suspect, but I have to say the General McCrystal article in Rolling Stone is the best I've read in quite some time. It would actually be a disservice to quote any one part as an example of a standout, because the whole damn thing is that good, and no matter where you stand on any relevant issue its an example of what real journalism is or should be about.

By no means does McChrystal look good here. For all his admirable qualities and undeniable abilities, he comes across as every bit as much a rogue, insubordinate general as Patton, MacArthur, and McCllellan at their worse, all rolled into one.

And though Obama has every right, and perhaps even a responsibility to fire him, and probably will, he is in a real bind. Red State defends the president's prerogative in this regard, yet points out that it might not be that easy or all that cut-and-dried.

McChrystal has already built up a checkered, controversial history. On the one hand, he is more than any other single person responsible for the success of the Iraq Surge strategy, as he was in charge of the counter-insurgency strategy that was such an integral part of it. His special forces unit was responsible for the capture of Saddam, and eventually the killing of the leader of Al-Queda in Iraq. On the other hand, he has been accused of and criticized for abuse of prisoners and suspects.

He also was the man who tried to hide the truth about of the death of Army Ranger and former Arizona Cardinals football player Pat Tillman. He recommended Tillman for a Bronze Star for death in combat against the enemy, even though he knew he actually died as a result of friendly fire. He even had the temerity to encourage his superiors in the Defense Department to go along with this charade, as a means of promoting the war effort, which he insisted would be harmed publicly were the truth known, which of course it eventually came out.

Yet, after a private briefing with a Congressional sub-panel, he was not publicly chastised. It makes you wonder if he did not in fact fall on his sword for the sake of someone else in the Defense Department. It would certainly explain the charmed life he's led since.

But he also has a reputation as a man with little patience or respect for the niceties of political civilian control, and is brutally frank and honest in his assessments. This in fact is supposedly one of the reason Obama, although stridently opposed to the Surge from the beginning as a matter of principle, placed him in charge of the Afghanistan effort in place of the fired General McKierney.

But it's been a tense relationship. McChrystal forced Obama kicking and screaming all the way around to his way of thinking-after a three month "study", of course-on the matter of increasing American troop strength in Afghanistan, something he and Biden, and most others in the Administration, was pointedly opposed to. He did this by speaking out publicly in the press. In other words, this is nothing new for General Stanley McChrystal.

It's hard to believe McChrystal and his staff were so stupid as to not understand and appreciate the implications of the things they said to Michael Hastings, the free-lance reporter who wrote the article for Rolling Stone over a period of a month, once he was stuck with the General and his staff in Europe during the days of the Icelandic volcano eruptions which grounded most air traffic in and out of the continent. They had to have known what they were getting into, and what the likely consequences would be. The general for his part has since apologized, but it comes across to me as the apology of a teenage boy who knowingly disobeyed the household rules and is now hoping to ameliorate the coming punishment he knows will come his way.

But the person who really looks bad in all this is Obama, along with those in his Administration involved in the war effort. Not just Obama, but Joe Biden, Special Envoy Richard Holbrook, US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eickenberry, National Security Advisor James Jones, all get raked over the coals, and openly derided in the most flagrantly obvious indications of disrespect imaginable. The only person in Obama's Administration any of the general's staff has a good word for, interestingly, is Hillary Clinton, a long time supporter of the general.

For a long-time professional soldier of such high rank and responsibility to take it upon himself to criticize the Commander-In-Chief, and much of his highest officials, in the pages of a magazine noted for its hostility to the war effort, is remarkable, and speaks volumes more than what it appears in print about the state of Obama's Administration, not just in this area alone, but in possibly all other areas of importance as well.

It's no wonder Obama is furious, because no matter how he handles this, its a big loss for him. If he fires McChrystal, he loses, but if he keeps him he still loses and looks weak in the bargain. But its a real worry for all of us, which is why I encourage everyone, know matter how you might feel one way of another, to read the article. If there is one money quote, the following excerpted from the pages of the Atlantic might suffice to illustrate the overall problem in a nutshell-

But however strategic they may be, McChrystal's new marching orders have
caused an intense backlash among his own troops. Being told to hold their fire,
soldiers complain, puts them in greater danger. "Bottom line?" says a former Special
Forces operator who has spent years in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I would love
to kick McChrystal in the nuts. His rules of engagement put soldiers' lives in even
greater danger. Every real soldier will tell you the same thing."

I have an idea that what you read above is a result of an Obama official policy causing morale problems, to say nothing of operational and safety concerns, with the general and some of his troops. But then again, we should know better than to expect too much from Team Obama.

Perhaps this whole thing is an example of two victims of the Peter Principle involved in a head-on collision. In McChrystal's case, he seems to be over his head when it comes to navigating the political waters and the public relations aspects that comes with his position. Of course, there is every possibility in the world that McChrystal knew exactly what he was doing, and did so purposely as a means of yet again forcing Obama to change his policy.

In Obama's case, on the other hand, the lack of competence is beyond dispute. Here we have one of those rare individuals who has been "promoted" three times above his level of competence to successively higher positions. It's a shame. He must have been one hell of a community organizer.

But alas, it's beginning to look like skill as a community organizer better prepares one for wrecking a nation than for building one.