General McChrystal – The Shakeup in Afghanistan

Over the last week, there was a shakeup in the U.S. military leadership of the war in Afghanistan. Though there has been controversy involving General McChrystal in the past, the most recent issue resulted from an interview General McChrystal gave to Rolling Stone magazine in which General McChrystal made critical remarks to numerous government officials within the administration and diplomatic corps. The end result was President Obama replacing General McChrystal with General Petraeus who led the surge in Iraq. Troy, Doug, Eric, and Craig weigh in…

Troy

First, it is worth noting that General McChrystal was appointed by President Obama so the controversy isn’t a partisan one. McChrystal has also publicly stated that he voted for President Obama. But the two have not always seen eye-to-eye and the recent comments in Rolling Stone was the proverbial straw that broke the camels back. The comments were inappropriate for two key reasons:

1) There’s nothing wrong with a military official giving their candid assessment of an issue, but there is an appropriate way to do so and that is in a meeting with the President. A military leader looking to maintain credibility should not give tabloid-esque interviews in Rolling Stone magazine. In the military, leadership and professionalism are emphasized as well as the chain of command. At the end of the day, that chain of command leads to the White House/Congress. That’s democracy. To not utilize the proper channels of dissent and discussion and instead turn the issue into a made-for-TV drama, General McChrystal demonstrated a complete lack of professionalism and leadership that is a prerequisite for military personnel at all levels, particularly high ranking officials.

2) The criticism of the civilian leadership clearly put in question civilian control of the military. The implication was that civilian leadership should do the will of military leaders and that is not how our constitutional democracy is set up. For the very purpose of maintaining a democracy, the military answers to civilian leadership – the President, the Congress, and their appointees. The actions of General McChrystal did not just betray these elected officials, it betrayed the Constitutional. This is a democracy and we maintain a democracy partly because we have civilian military authority.

For these reasons, General McChrystal’s comments were quickly criticized by officials from across the political spectrum, General McChrystal apologized, and General McChrystal fired one of his top aids responsible for setting up the interview. But the damage had been done and General McChrystal quickly indicated he was ready to resign if necessary. Because of the serious blow his comments struck to the Constitution and the effort in Afghanistan, President Obama was right to replace him.

The man who will replace McChrystal is none other than General Petraeus who led the generally successful surge in Iraq. Iraq is far from a stable society and government, but the surge has been generally successful in bringing the insurgency to a manageable level. General Petraeus, initially appointed by President Bush to oversee the surge in Iraq, is widely regarded as a brilliant and wise General who understands what it takes to wage a comprehensive and successful military effort: a balance of military and diplomatic efforts. I believe Obama’s choice to replace McChrystal was the best possible choice.

Before taking over Afghanistan in the last few days, General Petraeus oversaw the U.S. Central Command which oversees operations in the Middle East and Central Asia. By accepting the job in Afghanistan, Petraeus will be essentially taking a demotion from the U.S. Central Command. He is widely regarded as the best person for the job and the fact that he would rise to the occasion is a testament to his dedication to the cause and commitment to serving his country. Today we live in an era of undeclared wars and so there is less glory and fame in a General’s job. However, in my view, General Petraeus is not just an honorable General, but is among the most effective and wise Generals in our nation’s history.

Doug

It will come as a shock to no one that I support the President’s decision, and I think that this was the appropriate way to go.  The only fault that I find with President Obama is that he did not do this sooner.  To me, the public nature of General Stanley McChrystal’s request for more troops last year was enough to get him fired.

From the beginning of the Rolling Stone article, I looked at this man and saw that he may not have had what it takes to be our point person on Afghanistan.  When one of his aides were asked who McChrystal was having dinner with in Paris, the aide responded, “Some French minister.  It’s f***ing gay.”  If he thinks that meeting a foreign dignitary is gay, then I am sure that he cannot imagine what it will be like in the trenches by the end of the Obama administration.  When asked about how he would handle a question about Vice President Joe Biden, he stated, “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?  Who’s that?”Meanwhile, an aide (probably the same aforementioned idiot) said, “Biden?  Did you just say: Bite Me?”  I am just blown away by this aide’s wit and charm.  Jeez, it is no wonder that these people are now heading for an unemployment office.  And what has General McChrystal done with 30,000 extra troops?  Clearly not much if I am seeing story after story about dead civilians and American troops.

On the other hand, David Petraeus has a proven record of success in Iraq.  In fact, he is probably the ONLY person to have a proven record of success in Iraq (unless you count success in destabilizing the country and giving rise to a bloody insurgency; then President George W. Bush and former General Tommy Franks were also successful), so I think that he is the man for the job.  I think that he defended himself well against inquiries from Congress in his much bally-hooed update on Iraq, and he has always appeared to be a straight shooter.  He would have much more discipline than to trash the President and Vice President of the United States and offend various foreign allies all in one fell swoop.

All in all, it was not exactly Truman-esque, but I think that President Obama handled this situation perfectly.

Eric

General McChrystal’s comments in the Rolling Stone article, while humorous to read, are unfortunate and I would have to agree with his firing.

From what I read of the article, it certainly seems like this is a man who is supremely confident in his ability and steadfast in his beliefs of how to run things. That, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing especially for a US General. I guess the problem with that comes along when you are dismissive or downright hostile toward your superiors because of that confidence or those beliefs. Ever since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan there has seemed to be a tension between military types and politicians here at home. I know certainly these tensions were evident when it came to the surge strategy that was ultimately deployed in Iraq. History will ultimately decide which, if either, side was correct (although the military types seem to have at least gained some credibility for the surge in Iraq).

That’s what this whole situation, to me, comes down to. General McChrystal felt he knew what he was doing and what needed to be done to be successful in Afghanistan, and he felt that way to such an extent that it created an air of superiority when it came to his inner circle and himself. Maybe he was right in his strategy and what not, but those people who he felt were inferior just happened to be his superiors (or at least closer to his direct superior, the President).

I think ultimately, he had to be fired. President Obama cannot have his General making comments such as these publicly. Ideally, he wouldn’t make them in private but publicly is just unacceptable. Choosing General Petraeus was, I think, a good move and the only move to replace McChrystal. I’m sure you’ve heard it before but Petraeus wrote the book, literally, on counter-insurgency strategy. I don’t think you gamble on some unproven General when you’ve got that horse in your stable.

Craig

After reading the entire Rolling Stones article, I will begin by saying it’s a fascinating piece. Honestly, as a writing, it doesn’t flow tremendously well. However, General McChrystal has resigned from his post and is likely headed for retirement.

The direct implications of McChrystal’s comments are devastating, but show the culture and nature of wars. Wars aren’t pretty, and Americans forget that sometimes. The article shows that. He should have never made those comments. What’s interesting to me is that McChrystal has never questioned or denied the quotes. Because of this, they must have been during the formal interview or McChrystal gave approval to print them.

I think that the only appropriate disciplinary action is to accept his resignation. This isn’t the first time that McChrystal has made questionable comments towards the Obama administration. Even as a Republican, if a four-star general makes those remarks about a Republican President, I think a resignation must follow.

If President Obama doesn’t replace McChrystal with Petraeus, I don’t know who he appoints. Petraeus knows Obama’s strategy, and he has followed his policies. However, I don’t know if it’s smart to take General Petraeus from his CENTCOM post (this is a “demotion” by military ranking). If Petraeus had a commander that he would recommend, I would have chosen him/her over taking the demotion and putting my own history at risk. General Petraeus’ is to be respected, and I hope can turn Afghanistan around.

The war in Afghanistan is the longest war in the United States’ history. I hope General Petraeus can work his magic and can help the U.S. win. What is a victory for the United States though? That’s the hardest question that even our President struggles with.

Note from The Political Panorama:

Here at The Political Panorama, we have added a fifth contributor, Laura! She will begin tomorrow and will be a regular Saturday contributor in our weekly rotation. Her areas interests include refugee & migration studies, poverty, child soldiers, and human trafficking. She is sure to bring some new issues and unique insights to the discussion so stay tuned!

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