June 24, 2010

McChrystal's Sacking Affirms Our Democracy

General Stanley McChrystal
General Stanley McChrystal was removed from his command of the Afghanistan theatre yesterday by President Obama. CNN foreign affairs analyst Fareed Zakaria's comments on the sacking ring fairly true to me as to the merits of the decision:

The question I have, which in some ways is greater, is not whether Gen. McChrystal is guilty of insubordination but of incompetence.

CNN: In what way?

Zakaria: What I mean by that is this -- the counterinsurgency strategy depends upon a very close joint implementation of military, political, economic and diplomatic efforts. That is at the heart of it.
What you see in Gen. McChrystal is someone who is openly disdainful of and sets himself up almost in opposition to the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, the State Department high representative Richard Holbrooke, the national security adviser, the vice president. So you have to ask yourself how would it be possible that they would actually be implementing a counterinsurgency strategy with that level of disconnect and friction between the military and civilian authorities. If McChrystal and his team are so contemptuous of these other people whose support is absolutely critical to the success of the mission, then he's failing at his mission. This is not about his manners, this is about his ability to effectively execute the task he's been asked to execute.

That sounds about right to me. Implicit in a counter insurgency strategy is the acceptance that military power alone is insufficient to achieve our strategic objectives. If the general isn't carrying that through, well then we have a problem.  The extremely poor decision to permit Rolling Stone magazine to document his disdain for civilian authority was merely symptomatic of a larger problem.

 I am not unsettled in my spirit by his sacking because I'm sure that within the ranks of our military, there are others to do the job and Petraeous is certainly an excellent replacement choice provided he does not keel over any more.  Today's sacking I actually find reassuring, as it affirms an important element of our nation that now and forever will distinguish us from dictatorships, namely civilian control of the military.  The submission to civilian control means that our military leaders do not so much as contemplate usurping civilian authority.  It means that Tienanmen Square does not happen here.  It means that as US citizens we need not fear the guns of our military will be turned against us and our rights as citizens made to mean nothing at the barrel of a gun. When a general is sacked for being impolitic in his comments regarding civilian authority (in this instance  symptomatic of a more general conflict with civilian authority) its actually an affirmation of why this country is great.

General McChrystal issued an apology for his remarks in the Rolling Stone article and indicated that he regretted his poor judgment in permitting it to take place.  He answered the summons to the White House to explain himself and be held accountable for his error by the Commander in Chief.  In doing so, as he has done throughout a valorous military career, he has again honorably discharged his duty as a military officer to defend the Constitution and the national security of the United States of America. Even as we criticize him for this blunder, we can also thank General McChrystal for unfailingly and without hesitation, upholding the principle of civilian authority. We can thank him  for his service and sacrifice on behalf of his country demonstrated even in this moment by his willing acceptance of censure in the midst of a war on foreign soil. This is an affirming moment of our democracy and one of many reasons why I am proud to call myself an American.