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.
[...]
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.
[...]
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

21 Comments

  1. Good lord….how does this:

    “Three officers at the Pentagon and in Kabul told McClatchy that the McChrystal they know would resign before he'd stand behind a faltering policy that he thought would endanger his forces or the strategy.

    “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.”

    equate to the general threatening Obama that he will resign??? The officers said that they think he would resign…that is all they said.

    You should read your own links.

  2. 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?

    There is nothing wrong with a general threatening to resign if he cannot in good conscience execute the President's policies. It is right and proper for him to stand aside and allow himself to be replaced by someone who can.

    Question Kathy, honestly, did you ever think that any general resigning or offering a resignation due to Bush's policies were out of line? Or did you support them and cite this as an example of Bush's failures?

    I know I pointed to such resignations under Bush in that way as a critic of that administration. I offer this example the same way. Are you also consistent in this matter? Did you never point to a general resigning during the Bush administration in criticism of Bush? Do you think those who resigned under Bush were failing to properly carry out their duties? If so say so now so we can put your criticisms of the General in perspective.

  3. You should read your own links.

    You should read my links, too. And I will refrain from using the one-word descriptor that begins with the letter “I.”

    http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/arc

    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[.]

    Let me know if you need me to help you on your next trip to the bathroom.

  4. Yes, assuming that he would resign (which there is no actual proof that he made that threat), I would believe that resigning would be the honorable thing to do. If you cannot in good conscious follow an order given to you by a superior officer, then you must resign and face the consequences.

  5. There is nothing wrong with a general threatening to resign if he cannot in good conscience execute the President's policies.

    Once again:

    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[.]

    Tell me if you need any further help understanding the difference between a threat to resign if your wishes are not met, and resigning if you cannot in good conscience carry out the president's policies AFTER HE HAS MADE THEM KNOWN.

    Jeebus Louise. A person needs more patience than I have to deal with people like you and shannonlee.

  6. Jeebus Louise. A person needs more patience than I have to deal with people like you and shannonlee.

    No a person needs patience to refute your ideologue mentality.

    General McChrystal has been asking for more troops for quite sometime now while the Commander -in-Chief has sat on his duff. McChrystal has apparently had just about enough with this footdragging policy which he can not support for much longer.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/us

    The commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan will ask for 20,000 more international troops as part of his new strategic plan for the alliance's war against a resurgent Taliban, The Independent has learned.

    The demand from General Stanley McChrystal will almost certainly lead to more British soldiers being sent to the increasingly treacherous battlegrounds of Helmand, the Taliban heartland, despite growing opposition to the war.

    The date was August 29th.

    U.S. General McChrystal Wants More Troops
    http://afpakwar.com/blog/2009/07/15/u-s-general

    Less than six months after Barack Obama ordered 21,000 additional American soldiers to Afghanistan, and barely two weeks into the first major offensive by the reinforcements, General Stanley McChrystal, the newly-appointed US commander, has launched a lobbying drive for a substantial further increase in troop numbers.

    The date on this one, July 14th.

  7. I'm a bit of a radical on this issue, I think that everyone should have the right (and obligation) to resign if they feel the strategy is doomed to failure…as long as they don't argue for actual usurpation of authority.

  8. Does anybody else notice the similarity between the words 'wingers' and 'niggers'? Maybe its just that they both end with 'gers' or it could be the malice with which they are used, but to me, they would seem to carry the same intent, to disparage an entire group with language.

    It's too bad that the word 'nigger' has a racial connotation because I wold like to be able to use it in reference to non-blacks.

  9. How dare bad news with an implicit threat be directed to the Messiah!

  10. “To hear the wingers talk, though”

    You're only speaking for yourself and your highly unusual hearing or interpretation, Kathy.

  11. Does the fact that we don't have 40,000 spare troops laying around fit into this equation?

    The Pentagon has already said it would be six months before they could deploy even one additional combat brigade to Afghanistan.

    So do we increase the pace of withdrawal in Iraq? Decrease the amount of time between deployments on troops who have already seen it decreased in the past?

    We already sent an additional 24,000 troops earlier this year. At what point to we have to admit we've run out of boots?

  12. Another thought

    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.

    Well Kathy, since you always understood it to be the latter and not the former, I assume you are supportive of Colin Powell making the case for WMDs in Iraq? After all he was just following your understanding as you expressed it in the quote above..

  13. Read your own quote.
    “According to McClatchy, military officers close to General McChrystal said he is prepared to resign if he isn't given sufficient resources “

    Again…for the second time…how does this equate to the general threatening the President with a resignation?

    It doesn't.

    And please answer Leonidas' question. Isn't what you are condemning exactly what you expected from Collin Powell before his UN speech? Isn't it?

  14. To answer Kathy's initial question, yes you take an oath to obey the orders of the president and it sounds like McChrystal is prepared to break that oath. While he has not threatened this publicly he apparently has shared it with fellow officers, which is questionable behavior. You could take that as McChrystal is a poor officer, McChrystal feels the problem is so major as to warrant extreme measures, or both.

    Frankly though, the left focusing on this small aspect is like complaining about the drink service while the Titanic is sinking beneath you. Obama has some big problems. While people might be concerned about McChrystal's behavior, they should be doubly concerned that there seems to be a major rift between Obama and his military leaders, leaks have occurred at high levels, the person in the best position to know feels we need more troops in Afghanistan and Obama is apparently not listening (or at least disagreeing). Public opinion is turning against the war at a moment when Obama probably needs it most. This is a tough spot for Obama and he can't solve it by going on Letterman.

  15. “At what point to we have to admit we've run out of boots?”

    And what happens if we run out of public support?

  16. “According to McClatchy, military officers close to General McChrystal said he is prepared to resign if he isn't given sufficient resources “

    Again…for the second time…how does this equate to the general threatening the President with a resignation?

    Um… by saying he is prepared to resign? Other than that, I have no idea.

    Isn't what you are condemning exactly what you expected from Collin Powell before his UN speech? Isn't it?

    Leonidas doesn't understand the difference between threatening to resign if a decision doesn't go your way, and resigning after the decision is made because you can't in good conscience carry it out. So he didn't really ask me a question that could be answered because he didn't know what the question should be.

    So what is it again that I expected Colin Powell to do? Or not to do? Or something. Huh?

  17. Leonidas, how is suggesting a change in military strategy in an ongoing war, waiting for the president to decide what he wants to do, and then implementing the decision analogous to Colin Powell telling the UN that Iraq had WMDs in order to make a case for invading the country?

    Which of those details are the same as Gen. McChrystal threatening to resign if Pres. Obama does not send him 40,000 troops?

  18. As far as I know, he wasn't trying to solve it by going on Letterman.

  19. “And what happens if we run out of public support?”

    Ask the ghost of Dick Nixon.

  20. Leonidas doesn't understand the difference between threatening to resign if a decision doesn't go your way, and resigning after the decision is made because you can't in good conscience carry it out. So he didn't really ask me a question that could be answered because he didn't know what the question should be.

    Kathy doesn't understand that choosing not to decide is still making a choice. The General has asked for the troops and told Obama he needs them for success for moths, he has gotten sick and tired of Obama ignoring the situation and being noncommittal and might not want to be a part of it. If he feels he cannot do the job he was tasked with due to Obama's failings he has every right to resign.

    So what is it again that I condemned Colin Powell for doing? Or not doing? Or something? I mean — huh?

    I suggest you reread my comment and apply your position about the General to Colin Powell making the WMD case to the UN like I have already brought up. RIF.

  21. Just to clear this up: I work for General McChrystal, and he has not discussed nor is he considering resigning. He has remained quiet since the leak of his initial assessment because it is a classified document that was intended to inform major decisions by leaders in the United States and NATO. He wants to respect the original intent of the document as best he can by avoiding public comment while deliberations continue. The anonymous sources cited in these articles appear to be using his silences to advance their own agendas, not his.

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