President Barack Obama has relieved Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal for the right reasons. But he continues to make the wrong decision about staying in Afghanistan.
The issue was never about the general’s insubordination. That’s a no-brainer. He is insubordinate. An ordinary soldier who said the things he said would be court-martialed, and our army is an army of citizen soldiers. But the greater issue is twofold:
-He has bad judgment. -He is contemptuous of the American people, because Barack Obama, not Stanley McChrystal, is our chosen and elected commander-in-chief.
The Rolling Stone article by reporter Michael Hastings hasn’t even hit the streets, but his account of the general’s ugly and divisive contempt for his civilian superiors has now gotten the general fired.
He may have been a superb soldier, an effective leader, but he is now a loose cannon with impaired judgment. A wise, cool president had little choice but to fire him or become his stooge, the stooge of an injudicious and arrogant man.
Will the right-wingers who have poured contempt on Barack Obama for being dispassionate in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe now accuse him of being cold and deliberate towards a rogue general? Or will they complain he acted hastily in the heat of the moment?
Does it matter? They will condemn him for rising in the morning.
Leslie H. Gelb, a widely admired former New York Times reporter and the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Affairs, has cautioned against firing the general, saying in much more cultured language that this honored soldier had a bad hair day. Mr. Gelb has written that the greater issue is that our military distrusts Democrats in general and the President in particular.
I don’t have Mr. Gelb’s marvelous credentials, but I say as an ordinary citizen that that’s too damned bad. A military upon which we have lavished our wealth, a military we idolize, a sacrosanct military that we can hardly afford owes us the ordinary decency of respecting its historic subordination to our civilian leaders. And it certainly owes us the courtesy of not publicly mocking our civilian government. If the military is allowed to indulge this contempt for civilian government we will soon enough have no civilian government.
We owe the military an undischargeable debt, our very existence, our continued security, and our unflinching support, but it owes us this one excruciating balance upon which our entire democratic republic hinges.
With his earlier speech in London, preempting the President’s command, and with this squalid display of arrogance the general has crossed a line that must not be crossed, and the President has wisely called him on it. It should not be overlooked, especially by the Army, that the general has corrupted the Army by encouraging his immediate subordinates to join him in a foolish display of contempt. He owed his fellow officers and his troops better. He was supposed to set an example.
Our democracy, our ideal of civilian ascendancy, must not be sacrificed to expediency in Afghanistan or to General McChrystal’s past excellence or to the debt we owe our soldiers. It is a legitimate debt, unquestionably, but not at the price of living in a federal security state in which the military dictates policy.