Earlier today, the British paper Telegraph reported on Pres. Obama’s response to Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s very public criticism of the approach Obama is taking to Afghanistan:
According to sources close to the administration, Gen McChrystal shocked and angered presidential advisers with the bluntness of a speech given in London last week.
The next day he was summoned to an awkward 25-minute face-to-face meeting on board Air Force One on the tarmac in Copenhagen, where the president had arrived to tout Chicago’s unsuccessful Olympic bid.
When asked on CNN about the commander’s public lobbying for more troops, Gen Jim Jones, national security adviser, said: “Ideally, it’s better for military advice to come up through the chain of command.”
Asked if the president had told the general to tone down his remarks, he told CBS: “I wasn’t there so I can’t answer that question. But it was an opportunity for them to get to know each other a little bit better. I am sure they exchanged direct views.”
An adviser to the administration said: “People aren’t sure whether McChrystal is being naïve or an upstart. To my mind he doesn’t seem ready for this Washington hard-ball and is just speaking his mind too plainly.”
That may be the understatement of the year:
In London, Gen McChrystal, who heads the 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan as well as the 100,000 Nato forces, flatly rejected proposals to switch to a strategy more reliant on drone missile strikes and special forces operations against al-Qaeda.
He told the Institute of International and Strategic Studies that the formula, which is favoured by Vice-President Joe Biden, would lead to “Chaos-istan”.
When asked whether he would support it, he said: “The short answer is: No.”
He went on to say: “Waiting does not prolong a favorable outcome. This effort will not remain winnable indefinitely, and nor will public support.”
Bruce Ackerman, in an op-ed at the Washington Post, doesn’t use the word “insubordination,” but he certainly suggests that’s what Gen. McChrystal is flirting with here:
As commanding general in Afghanistan, McChrystal has no business making such public pronouncements. Under law, he doesn’t have the right to attend the National Security Council as it decides our strategy. To the contrary, the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 explicitly names the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the National Security Council’s principal military adviser. If the president wanted McChrystal’s advice, he was perfectly free to ask him to accompany Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, when the council held its first meeting on Afghanistan this week.
But Obama did not extend the invitation, even though McChrystal was leaving Kabul and could have gone to Washington easily. Instead, Obama asked the general to report to the council via a brief teleconference.
News of McChrystal’s position had been leaked to Bob Woodward and was published in The Post early last week. But it is one thing for some nameless Washington insider to engage in a characteristic power play; quite another for McChrystal to pressure the president in public to adopt his strategy. This is a plain violation of the principle of civilian control.
McChrystal was almost cavalier in dismissing this point [that "Confidentiality is a condition for candid communications between commanders and the commander in chief."]. After praising his superiors for encouraging straight talk, he laughingly suggested that “they may change their minds and crush me some day.” This is precisely backward: Generals shouldn’t need to be told that it is wrong to lecture their presidents in public. Perhaps McChrystal was misled by the precedent set by Gen. David Petraeus, who strongly supported President Bush’s military surge in Iraq in 2007. Though Petraeus publicly endorsed the surge, this happened only after Bush made his decision. Petraeus was backing up his commander in chief, not trying to preempt him.
I recall a lot of enthusiastic talk on the right, during the previous administration’s run, about the chain of command and the authority of the Commander-in-Chief — indeed, to the point where conservatives would hotly declare that Pres. Bush was “our” Commander-in-Chief (which of course isn’t true; the POTUS is only Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces), and that members of Congress, liberal bloggers, and anyone else who dared to question Bush’s policies in Iraq and Afghanistan were all but committing treason.
Now? Not so much. Running down the roster of former chain-of-command fans, we find varying flavors of ‘What’s the big deal about a general openly challenging Pres. Obama’s Afghanistan strategy?’ Free samples:
And an outlier:
Back when an unpopular President Bush was hanging his defense on the war on the prestige of his top general in the theater, I warned of Petraeus Fetishism. While I continue to respect and admire the general, it violates every tenet of our system to have the generals making strategic policy decisions. The president and his team should make those calls — preferably with the input of the Joint Chiefs and appropriate theater commanders, who can advise them on logistics, timetables, and matters of feasibility — and the generals should then be left alone to run the tactical level operations within the broad parameters of the assigned political objectives. And that’s just as true in periods, like the current one, when the president is someone for whom I did not vote.