General McChrystal is an ass and his stupidity in uttering the things he uttered to a journalist – not a drinking-buddy general, but a freakin’ free-lance journalist writing for Rolling Freakin’ Stone – calls into question his fitness for command for his of lack of judgment as much as for his insubordination, the latter raising question enough. The President would be justified in relieving him of command and a few other benefits of military service.
But I’m not entirely sure he should, for his own good.
Now, Your Cool Hot Center is not fond of this President. But it doesn’t wish him any particular ill, and its preference would be that he a good President and a good man. He hasn’t shown a strong inclination to be the first thing and the republic and I are still uncertain about the second. But people can change. He is a smart chap and perhaps one morning he will wake up, invite Newt Gingrich in for a spot of tea or perhaps a brew, the two of them will hammer out a sensible and moderate Contract for 21st Century America, and his historical significance will be beyond reach. (Unless his idea of historical significance is to be The First Black President to Be Compared Unfavorably to Warren G. Harding and Jimmy Carter.)
I’m not holding my breath about the Newt thing, but I do have some advice for him which I swear, O Centerists, is absolutely sincere.
After his meeting with General McC and the top Pentagon brass, President Obama should issue a statement that would go something like this:
“I was very disturbed at published reports that General McChrystal had given an interview to a journalist in which he was severely critical of me and several high-ranking members of my administration. While America treasures its heritage as a country in which First Amendment rights of free speech are valued above all others, every free country also recognizes that among the first tenets of the maintenance of a strong, civilian-controlled military is the need for loyalty not only in deed, but in thought and word.
"General McChrystal showed little regard for that tenet in his remarks. He recognizes this. In our meeting, he apologized – in my judgment, sincerely – for his remarks, not only to me but to the other individuals named in his interview. More importantly, he reaffirmed his loyalty to both the concept and the fact of civilian leadership of the military of this great nation, as well as his support for this administration’s strategic goals in Afghanistan.
“It remained for me to determine what action to take in light of these events.
“In pondering this decision, I thought back on my own political career, and that of many of the men and women I am now proud to have serving this country, and this administration. Every one of those careers can illustrate the fact that sometimes people say things they shouldn’t, and sometimes those things are exceedingly ill-advised. Certainly my own public record contains some statements I’d like to have back.
“In this case, I believe that a few unfortunate comments ought not destroy the career of one of our most distinguished and highly-regarded military leaders. And it also ought not deprive the country of the services of a man who I have believed, and still believe, is the right man for the job I have asked him to do in Afghanistan.
“Accordingly, I have accepted General McChrystal’s apology as have the other individuals involved. I have rejected his offer to resign his post. I have advised General McChrystal that his command will be unaffected by this episode. I have further requested that the Secretary of the Army and the Joint Chiefs of Staff not take any action to discipline General McChrystal beyond noting this episode in his record. I have asked General McChrystal to return to Afghanistan with my best wishes and continued support for the fine job he and his troops are doing under extremely difficult circumstances.
"In addition, we took the opportunity of our meeting to discuss our Afghanistan campaign in some detail, and I have asked General McChrystal to follow up with a full report of the current status there, and additional detailed recommendations for me to consider.
“In declining to discipline General McChrystal in this instance, I do not wish to call into question the military’s rules against insubordination, nor the powerful policy that requires them for the maintenance of an effective national defense. I have only determined that on this particular occasion, the offense of insubordination – and neither I nor General McChrystal have any question that this is what took place here – does not call for his relief from command. That this episode will remain in his record, and will have become of public record, is judgment enough at this time.
“You can call it the ‘sticks and stones’ theory of government. As long as personal mistakes are recognized for what they are – and that their seriousness is likewise recognized, and that they are not repeated – we are not going to let the occasional intemperate remark distract us from the need to work together to achieve this nation’s goals.
“Finally, I would like to add a personal note. I am speaking now only for myself, and not for any other of the individuals involved. I read General McChrystal’s remarks. Among those remarks was an expression of disappointment that in my first meeting with him, he found me unprepared. Well, in considering this matter I have had occasion to recall that meeting. And I believe that candor requires me to admit that I probably was not as prepared as I should have been.
“I believe that every difficulty should serve as an opportunity to learn something. I am confident that General McChrystal has done so. I have resolved to do so as well.”
How’s that sound? I think if the President issued a statement along these lines, Keith Olberman would recant every negative syllable about him he has uttered in the last two weeks, and Chris Matthews would tingle all over, like someone standing in the transporter of the Starship Enterprise – the Kirk Enterprise, not the Picard Enterprise. And the right would be similarly impressed.
And people would think President Obama was a pretty good guy and possibly even a wise leader.
N.B.: I should add that this advice is entirely independent of whether we need a change at the top in Afghanistan for other reasons, or whether the Administration's strategy there is sound, or effective. In fact, I assume that the problems here go beyond personal animosity. And now, having thus thoroughly qualified my advice, I stand by it absolutely.