Democracy Arsenal

« The Patriotic and National Security Imperative of Mosque Building | Main | Giustozzi on the Taliban »

June 22, 2010

The Four Reasons Why Obama HAS to Fire Stan McChrystal
Posted by Michael Cohen

So I've read the Rolling Stone article that everyone is talking about and it seems patently clear that if civil military relations still mean anything in this country President Obama has to fire General McChrystal. Here are four clear reasons why.

Insubordination: This one isn't really a close call. From a perception standpoint, you can't have a prominent general making disparaging statements about the Vice President as well as other civilian leaders - particularly in front of his own staff. Imagine if some colonel under McChrystal's command was caught by a reporter saying these things that McChrystal is quoted saying - his military career would be done. And so should McChrsytal's. From Obama's perspective if he lets McChrystal stay it's hard to see how he will have any credibility left as the nation's commander-in-chief. No president, Democrat or Republican, can allow such insubordination to stand, particularly since McChrystal has already pushed the envelope on this issue last fall in London.

By the way, here is Article 88 of the UCMJ on insubordination - this is pretty clear cut:

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.

Unfathomable Stupidity: Any regular reader would know that I'm not a huge fan of General McChrystal, but I figured he's a pretty smart guy to rise through the ranks the way he has . . . I'm revising that judgment after reading this article. What in god's name could McChrystal have been thinking openly disparaging the Vice President and other civilian leaders in front of a reporter - and not just any reporter, but a Rolling Stone reporter? This is just an absolutely stunning lack of judgment on McChrystal's part . . . which leads to the third reason Obama should fire him.

Arrogance: What I find perhaps so striking about the Rolling Stone article is the complete arrogance of McChrystal. The announced "disappointment" he felt after meeting Obama for the first time (who cares what he felt after meeting his boss), the sense of betrayal at Eikenberry for disparaging his COIN strategy (who the hell is McChrystal to be feel betrayed by our Ambassador in Kabul) and the clear comfort he felt in mocking civilian leaders in front of his staff. There seems to be a sense here among McChrystal that he can, say and do whatever he wants with little repercussion. I guess after you rolled the White House last fall through a calculated series of media leaks and public appearances to support a troop surge, I suppose you pretty much think you can get away with anything.

McChrystal's COIN Blinders: This is the part of the story that will likely get the least attention - but it should get the most. In a session with enlisted men complaining about McChrystal's overly restrictive rules of engagement that prevent them from using lethal force and put American troops in harm's way from insurgents, McChrystal trots out the old hearts and minds cliche and makes the historically irrelevant point that the Soviets killed one million Afghans and "that didn't work" (as if it was that simple). He is also quoted as saying, "This is the philosophical part that works with think tanks . . but it doesn't get the same reception from infantry companies." 

And it doesn't; because it's a load of hooey - and the men on the ground, rightfully aren't buying it. What I found striking about this interlude - and tracking General McChrystal's other public statements - is that he seems oblivious to obvious signs that his COIN strategy is not working and that it is a terrible fit for a war like Afghanistan. He has seemingly so evangelized COIN that even when presented with evidence from his own troops that it's not working on the ground; or analysis from the Ambassador in Kabul that Karzai cannot be trusted as a partner, it's ignored or shunted aside for what he derisively calls the "philosophical part." What's worse, you have a senior military official in Kabul floating the possibility that "we could ask for another surge of US forces next summer if we see success here."  It really makes you wonder if that whole 18-month timeline for commencing withdrawals, which the President declared at West Point, has penetrated the military chain of command. Apparently not. 

But in the end, this isn't really a close call, McChrystal screwed up big time. He disparaged the civilian leadership; he showed stunningly bad judgment and his slavish adherence to a failing COIN strategy - and the dubious assumptions underpinning it -  demonstrates a lack of adaptability that should be deeply concerning. The third one isn't necessarily a fireable offense (although apparently it's why General McKiernan was relieved), but the first one most certainly is. 

My understanding is that McChrystal is right no flying back to Washington.

When he gets to the White House, President Obama will almost certainly fire him - and damn well he should.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Four Reasons Why Obama HAS to Fire Stan McChrystal:


I strongly disagree. In fact, Obama is indeed falling into the trap of counting success in Afghanistan by bodies, not hearts - by over-reliance on drones (in anticipation of a troop drawdown). I've laid out the case for why Obama should NOT fire McChrystal at Beliefnet:

Reading the excerpts of the Rolling Stone article that are available, it's clear that the soldiers themselves are still stuck in a Bush-era mindset about what their goals are. McChrystal is the only one who has the vision about COIN and winning hearts and minds. The quotes I excerpt in my post above are really quite eye-opening.

I am sure they will fire this man for telling the truth about this administrations and its pro jihadist attitude. After hiring pro terror lawyers at DOJ for prosecuting terrorists nothing surprises me about this Obama administration. So we will lose another patriot.

It is not wise to continue trusting a general who feels it's okay to make such statements. Even if he publicly apologizes, how can he be trusted to support the Commander In Chief privately and when out of the spotlight? He sets a dangerous example for his subordinates to accept and follow. He should be out immediately!

I think the General will be taken to the woodshed and whipped but not fired. I think Obama is ruthless enough to fire him but if he does who goes in his place? His comments against the administration are an embarrassment but they will endear him to our troops on the ground. This isn't the same America that had Truman firing MacArthur-back then the threat of military takeover of the government was real if unlikely and Truman had to show the world who was boss. Afghanistan is very unpopular here and I don't think most Americans care particularly about McChrystal-pragmatism will win the day and he will stay.

This is just an absolutely stunning lack of judgment on McChrystal's part . . .

Look, this can't just be a mere failure of judgment. It's not just some kind of goof or lapse or brain cramp. McChrystal was allegedly given the entire article during fact-checking, and approved the quotes.

McChrystal evidently does this stuff on purpose. Now that the pressure is back on given the fact that there is no way the mission can be completed within the allotted time frame, he has gone back to what he tried last year: exerting political pressure on the White House through the media and public airing.

McChrystal knows what he is doing. He is betting that Obama needs him politically, and doesn't have the nerve to sack him. He might also be doing exactly what he is accusing others of doing: anticipating a likely withdrawal with a failed mission, and laying down some early markers in the media to make sure he doesn't take the blame.

Arrogance? That's not uncommon historically with generals stationed far from their home countries. McChrystal now thinks he is King of Afghanistan; not just an American general.

Aside from the fact that McChrystal is correct in describing the buffoons in this new regime that reside in Washington, my note here is to suggest you find a new editor, proofreader, or at least re-read your comments before posting (just a couple of errors).

People who are curious, please come with me, I will bring you different feeling!

This sort of insubordination seriously undermines Obama's mandate. Where has the solid reporting to cover this issue gone. It is no wonder mainstream media's integrity rating has gone down the toilet as cited by The Committee for Media and Newspaper Integrity.

I strongly disagree; McChrystal should be court-martialed and so should many of his aids. He should be demoted to private, stripped of all medals and honors, sentenced to hard labor and given a dishonorable discharge.

It is essential to a well functioning military that insubordination be eliminated. Morover, it is essential to the well being of the US that civilian control of the military be asserted as strongly as possible. The message must be sent loud and clear. Failure to act makes a mockery of the UCMJ and the authority of the CIC.

And for those who say that McChrystal didn't actual say contemptuous words, please read articles 78 and 80 of the UCMJ. He is guilty of fostering the environment where these words took place and in not reporting them when they did.

wow this is one of the most bias'd self serving articles I've ever read
im very disappointed in the writing of this I think we all know whose the idoit here.... the writer

The comments to this entry are closed.

Sign-up to receive a weekly digest of the latest posts from Democracy Arsenal.
Powered by TypePad


The opinions voiced on Democracy Arsenal are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of any other organization or institution with which any author may be affiliated.
Read Terms of Use