The President and the General

Is it the job of Gen. Stanley McChrystal to tell the POTUS what the military strategy should be in Afghanistan and threaten to resign if the President does not comply? Or is it rather Gen. McChrystal’s job to recommend a change in military strategy, wait for the President’s decision, and then carry out that decision as ordered?

I am certainly no military expert, but I had always understood it to be the latter, not the former. To hear the wingers talk, though, you’d think the top commander in Afghanistan outranks the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Here, for example, is Bruce McQuain (writing both at Blackfive and at QandO), telling us that “President Obama must clearly commit to either ‘success’ as defined by McChrystal’s plan or pulling out in an orderly fashion and leaving Afghanistan to its own devices.” Cutting McQuain a bit of slack, his son just deployed to Afghanistan — so if he is a little impatient to know what Pres. Obama’s Afghanistan policy is going to be going forward, anyone can surely understand and sympathize. Having said that, one would hope that a seasoned military professional like McQuain would agree that the POTUS’s choices are not limited to either accepting McChrystal’s definition of success or pulling all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.

When I first saw the headline about Gen. McChrystal’s threat to resign if Pres. Obama does not give him the additional troops he’s asking for — even before I read the article or any of the blog responses — I thought to myself, “This doesn’t sound right. A general shouldn’t be giving the president ultimatums, should he?” And again, I was second-guessing myself, because I am not as knowledgeable about the military as I am about other subjects. But it certainly seemed to me that, when Bush was president, his status as the Commander-in-Chief was constantly brought up whenever anyone questioned the wisdom of his decisions or their legality. Why, now, does the POTUS play second string to his generals?

So you can imagine my relief (about the soundness of my own instincts) when I went over to Andrew Sullivan’s place to see what he thought, and read this:

Am I the only person to be somewhat alarmed by this statement:

“Yes, he’ll be a good soldier, but he will only go so far,” a senior official in Kabul said. “He’ll hold his ground. He’s not going to bend to political pressure.”

It is McChrystal’s job to bend to political pressure. His job is to obey the orders of his commander-in-chief who is answerable to the American people. The way in which this man seems to be trying to bounce the administration into a deeper longer war, and threatening to resign to exact political damage if he doesn’t, is outrageous. It is one thing to recommend a new military strategy; it is another thing to enter politics. McChrystal is lucky that his recent history of presiding over some of the worst torture and abuse of the Cheney era was glossed over by the Senate in confirming him. He shouldn’t push his luck.

Big Tent Democrat puts it even more strongly in a post titled, “If Gen. McChrystal Threatens Resignation, He Should Be Removed.”

I have only scanned the news reports on Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s assessment of the war in Afghanistan, and at first blush, I think he has it right on the strategy. But it is NEVER acceptable for a subordinate to threaten resignation if his superior (in this case, the Commander in Chief, the President of the United States) does not follow his recommendations.
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In my mind, that is NOT what good soldiers do. Good soldiers follow legal orders issued to them. If this report is correct, then General McChrystal should be removed from his command. This threat would seriously weaken the concept enshrined in our Constitution of civilian control of the military. If McArthur can be fired, certainly a McChrystal can be fired.

Larisa Alexandrovna is outraged, not just about, as she puts it, “the blackmailing of a president,” but also about the larger issue of hypocrisy — and this is something that I was thinking, too. What is this nonsense about Pres. Obama “dithering” and “delaying” and allowing the Pentagon to “sit on the report for weeks”? For weeks? The war in Afghanistan has been going on for eight years. The disastrous, catastrophic conditions in-country that McChrystal describes in his report are in very large part the result of the appallingly bad decisions made by the Bush administration — the most egregious of which, of course, was the decision made by Pres. Bush and his Team of Vulcans to wrench military resources out of Afghanistan to start an insanely unnecessary, illegal preventive war against Iraq. That decision had consequences — and those consequences cannot simply be reversed at will, with a few tens of thousands more troops (emphasis is in original):

The reality is of course that Iraq was never part of that front and in getting stuck in Iraq, we have lost Afghanistan already (which I warned against ages ago).

The people who screamed that if we left Iraq, chaos would prevail in the Middle East have created this horror.
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Cheney and the Neo-cons lost Afghanistan for us. They also empowered Iran and managed also to destabilize Pakistan. What a legacy. McChrystal did not, however, threaten to resign at any point during the Bush-Cheney fiasco after fiasco. Where was the General when the Iraq war plans were being put together – and the evidence fabricated? Was he worried about success in Afghanistan then?

Yet General McChrystal – a Cheney loyalist – is threatening to resign now? Why? Come to think of it, where was the right-wing when all of us were concerned that Afghanistan would be lost if we went into Iraq?

My suggestion? Fine. Resign then. Perhaps someone with an actual strategy other than the looting of the US treasury might be better for this effort in any case.

Finally, Steve Hynd thinks some creative chronology might be in play:

Is Bill Roggio being deliberately misleading about McChrystal’s threat to resign if he doesn’t get his way about more troops for Afghanistan? In a piece for Long War Journal which is getting a lot of play from rightwing blogs, Roggio writes:

Within 24 hours of the leak of the Afghanistan assessment to The Washington Post, General Stanley McChrystal’s team fired its second shot across the bow of the Obama administration. According to McClatchy, military officers close to General McChrystal said he is prepared to resign if he isn’t given sufficient resources (read “troops”) to implement a change of direction in Afghanistan.

The trouble is, the McClatchy piece he cites was written and published before the leak to the Washington Post, so it was a first shot at best, not a “second shot”. Roggio appears to have deliberately reversed the timeline in an attempt to make his case look stronger.

Given his long track record of stenography for the Petraeus faction in the military, maybe a better question would be: who is Roggio being deliberately misleading on behalf of?

Author: KATHY KATTENBURG