The McChrystal Mess

by Victor Davis Hanson

NRO’s The Corner

Many have commented on the unfairness of it all, and made good points:

a) Obama, having demagogued the Iraq war, and campaigned on a “let me at ’em” in the “good” war in Afghanistan, has done his best to renege on his 2008 chest-thumping (e.g., not meeting with McChrystal for months; setting arbitrary withdrawal dates that turn the war into a “wait them out” process; publicly rebuking in embarrassing fashion the Karzai government; insulting the British enough so that they and other European countries will soon be leaving — not wishing to stay on when they also know we’re going to pack it up soon, and so on).

b) McChrystal has not said anything more defamatory than what Obama himself, as a U.S. senator, said about the surge or Predators, and nothing that approaches the slanders of a Sen. Durban, Kerry, or Reid.

c) We don’t always fire generals who mouth off — especially those so closely identified with the current efforts at the front. Patton was given several chances; Arleigh Burke was saved by Truman despite his campaign against the Pentagon’s civilian head.

d) Obama is in a terrible dilemma. If he doesn’t fire McChrystal after a second indiscretion, he perhaps looks weak. If he does, it endangers the current effort in Afghanistan and looks like he’s silencing an officer for having legitimate worries.

e) The howling media is hypocritical. Yesterday’s officers who took on Bush in the “revolt of the generals” were deemed courageous. Today’s critics are slandered as near-treasonous when they dare reproach Him.

f) It would be very frustrating for a gifted and devoted general like McChrystal to work for Obama, given the latter’s indifference, contradictions, and clear anti-war stance as a senator.

No matter, nonetheless. The issue is not whether McChrystal is a great officer (he is), but one of judgment. One does not openly criticize civilian overseers to the press, however justified (and there are plenty of justifications). Nor does one allow a climate in which subordinate officers feel emboldened enough that they loosely trash an administration to the press. If one really wishes to warn the public about a growing crisis in Afghanistan brought on by ignorance, egos, and duplicity in the administration, one surely does not talk to the likes ofRolling Stone. The proper way is to send warnings in private channels up the chain of command to the Pentagon and then to the White House. And when one feels the level of ignorance is overwhelming the chances of success, then one resigns and goes public to warn the nation. One cannot otherwise have it both ways.

No one wants to see McChrystal go, but senior officers and their staffers simply cannot ridicule civilian overseers, even if casually and in jest. We don’t know all the details or the veracity of the journalists involved, so it would be foolish to rush to judgment, but something will have to be resolved within the next 48 hours or so.

©2010 Victor Davis Hanson

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