“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.”
–The United States Code of Military Justice
Let’s do a little thought exercise, shall we?
You’re the president of the United States of America, which, in addition to your other executive powers and responsibilities, means that you are the civilian leader of the US military. As Commander in Chief, you have a higher ranking than any member of the armed forces. According to the military’s staunchly-observed hierarchy (by which the entire apparatus functions), enlisted personnel may not, under any circumstances, insult, demean or ridicule a commanding officer. Nor are subordinates allowed to reject or thwart orders issued by a superior. To do so would be a gross dereliction of duty, rendering the perpetrator unfit to serve.
Still with me? Good.
You also happened to have taken the Oath of Office under particularly trying circumstances. Your predecessor managed to embroil the country in two protracted wars, at least one of which was entirely elective. This is in addition to a badly-damaged national economy, a ballooning deficit (3 trillion of which can be attributed to just one of the aforementioned conflicts), and an obstructionist minority party. Oh, and there’s also a huge-ass oil leak in the Gulf that refuses to be plugged.
The last thing you need is the general in charge of the most strategically significant of the two wars undermining your military policy. Especially when the shit-talker is the living embodiment of that policy, having repeatedly evangelized his counterinsurgency plan until you finally chose to implement it. Even with this particular conflict entering it’s most violent phase in nearly a decade, you remain committed to your general’s strategy. So much so that you’re willing to deal with ongoing squabbles between the more skeptical members of your administration and Pentagon brass.
Sounds kinda sucky, huh?
Well, that’s the exact situation President Obama finds himself in due to a story in Rolling Stone that shows a clearly disrespectful, if not insubordinate, General Stanley McChrystal. More telling are the remarks from the general’s staff, who cross enough lines to make an Army draftsman’s head spin.
According to the article:
McChrystal’s aid calls National Security Advisor James Jones a “clown.”
Another aide says of envoy Richard Holbrooke, “The Boss [McChrystal] says he’s like a wounded animal. Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”
Bolstering that, McChrystal himself, receiving an email from Holbrooke says, “Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke. I don’t even want to read it.”
On Vice President Biden, who disagreed with the General’s strategy in Afghanistan, McChrystal says while laughing, “Are you asking me about Vice President Biden? Who’s that?” An aide, mirroring his boss, adds, “Biden? Did you say Bite me?”
Clearly, McChrystal’s team would not be as free with their color commentary if they thought the boss felt differently. It’s no exaggeration to call this an Epic Discipline FAIL.
And it can’t be good for the mission. In the RS piece, McChrystal registers frustration with an Afghanistan strategy that he not only architected, but aggressively pushed for. Apparently, it’s all Obama’s fault. So much for that famous military ethos of personal responsibility.
The article was hardly an exercise in “gotcha journalism.” according to RS editor Eric Bates, “They knew when we were on the record. They said a lot of stuff to us off the record that’s not in the story. We respected those boundaries. This was all when they knew they were on.”
Furthermore, McChrystal made no attempt to deny the veracity of any of the story’s quotes.
Bates has also said that the general has known about the article’s contents for the past two weeks, as he had been contacted during the magazine’s routine fact-checking.
Lots of folks are think that Obama should dismiss McChrystal, and not just liberals. Notorious hawk Henry Kissinger said earlier today that the president “should probably fire” the general. Its not like McChrystal is some populist superhero like General McCarthur, who was famously axed by President Truman. The war in Afghanistan does not enjoy broad public support, and even Republican congressional leaders recognize the futility of retaining an insubordinate general in the midst of major conflict.
The fact that McChrystal has apparently already offered to resign doesn’t make things any easier for Obama, who has pinned his entire Afghanistan strategy on the general’s lapel. Wild card or no, McChrystal is one of the few American officials who can seemingly communicate with Afghan president Hamid Karzai — an impossibly flaky leader who nonetheless is the sole political bulwark against Taliban intransigence.
We should know very soon whether or not McChrystal keeps his post. Until then, I might as well ask: what do you think Obama should do?