by Austin Bay
June 29, 2010
Gen. Stanley McChrystal's relief of command by President
Barack Obama has a recent precedent, at least one that involves the issue of
respect for the military chain of command, a magazine article and the end of a
fine military career.
In March 2008, following an interview with Esquire Magazine,
Adm. William J. "Fox" Fallon, a leader with a stellar military
record, resigned as commander of Central Command and retired from the U.S.
Esquire portrayed the former carrier pilot as the only man
standing between President George W. Bush and a war with Iran. A senior
American military officer must be prepared to pay the price of relief when
publicly disagreeing with the commander in chief, the president of the United
Adm. Fallon's opinions weren't the sole difficulty. His
views, in a less provocative rhetorical context -- say, a dry discussion of
what-if scenarios -- might have raised eyebrows but not hackles. Election-year
rhetorical and political tropes, however, jammed the article.
"Neo-con" and "Bush" demon connivers threaten the world
with immolation because they want war with Iran. Yet Fallon stands tall,
prepared to be relieved for speaking truth.
As published, the article challenged the system of civilian
control of the military, which serves America well. Fallon may or may not have
gotten his say -- odds are he did, but as relayed by Esquire they dovetailed
with a perceived elect-a-lefty media agenda.
In the last two years, however, even a few of those media
and political elites have discovered what a farce it is to attempt to placate
Tehran's Khomeinists. Obama issued apologies in Cairo and offered negotiations
sans conditions. The CIA now thinks the mullahs have enough uranium for two
bombs, seemingly revising a controversial assessment from fall 2007 that said
Iran would not get nukes until 2015. The problem wasn't the Bush's approach --
the problem is bigoted fanatics who want weapons that kill millions.
As for McChrystal: In a press conference on June 24 of this year,
Adm. Mike Mullen said, succinctly, "It was clear that ... in its totality,
it challenged civilian control ... ."
Mullen's "it" refers to the disrespect for
civilian authority by now-former U.S. Afghanistan commander McChrystal's staff,
as portrayed in an article in the current issue of Rolling Stone magazine.
President Obama, whose wife until his candidacy was never proud of her country,
relieved McChrystal for this disrespect -- not so much for what McChrystal had
said, but for his staff's biting criticism of other members of the
administration, including Vice President Joe Biden.
The president should have relieved him. In the long run, for
the good of the republic, it is always beneficial to remind the military who is
the Constitution-authorized boss.
responsible for what his staff does -- those are the military's rules, even in
an administration stuffed to its appointee brim with
thumb-your-nose-at-bourgeoisie-rules campus radicals. It is not clear that
McChrystal got his say in exchange for his career -- likely he did not.
He appeared to have won the intra-administration debate over
strategy in Afghanistan. But in light of the article, he did seem confident
about that win. Deep policy disagreements fester in the Obama administration
over Afghanistan. McChrystal's big mistake was failing to express policy
disagreements in a professional manner. He and his staff couched his
disagreements in base, crude terms spiced with locker room panache. Rolling
Stone's correspondent heard it.
President Obama needs to learn that vacillation doesn't win
wars. His administration is vacillating, if not fragmenting, over Afghanistan.
In the aftermath of McChrystal's relief, the appointment of Gen. David Petraeus
gives the administration the opportunity to pursue a focused, coherent policy.