by Austin Bay
June 29, 2010
Gen. Stanley McChrystal's relief of command by PresidentBarack Obama has a recent precedent, at least one that involves the issue ofrespect for the military chain of command, a magazine article and the end of afine military career.
In March 2008, following an interview with Esquire Magazine,Adm. William J. "Fox" Fallon, a leader with a stellar militaryrecord, resigned as commander of Central Command and retired from the U.S.Navy.
Esquire portrayed the former carrier pilot as the only manstanding between President George W. Bush and a war with Iran. A seniorAmerican military officer must be prepared to pay the price of relief whenpublicly disagreeing with the commander in chief, the president of the UnitedStates.
Adm. Fallon's opinions weren't the sole difficulty. Hisviews, in a less provocative rhetorical context -- say, a dry discussion ofwhat-if scenarios -- might have raised eyebrows but not hackles. Election-yearrhetorical and political tropes, however, jammed the article."Neo-con" and "Bush" demon connivers threaten the worldwith 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 civiliancontrol of the military, which serves America well. Fallon may or may not havegotten his say -- odds are he did, but as relayed by Esquire they dovetailedwith a perceived elect-a-lefty media agenda.
In the last two years, however, even a few of those mediaand political elites have discovered what a farce it is to attempt to placateTehran's Khomeinists. Obama issued apologies in Cairo and offered negotiationssans conditions. The CIA now thinks the mullahs have enough uranium for twobombs, seemingly revising a controversial assessment from fall 2007 that saidIran 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 forcivilian 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 hadsaid, but for his staff's biting criticism of other members of theadministration, including Vice President Joe Biden.
The president should have relieved him. In the long run, forthe good of the republic, it is always beneficial to remind the military who isthe Constitution-authorized boss.
McChrystal isresponsible for what his staff does -- those are the military's rules, even inan administration stuffed to its appointee brim withthumb-your-nose-at-bourgeoisie-rules campus radicals. It is not clear thatMcChrystal got his say in exchange for his career -- likely he did not.
He appeared to have won the intra-administration debate overstrategy in Afghanistan. But in light of the article, he did seem confidentabout that win. Deep policy disagreements fester in the Obama administrationover Afghanistan. McChrystal's big mistake was failing to express policydisagreements in a professional manner. He and his staff couched hisdisagreements in base, crude terms spiced with locker room panache. RollingStone's correspondent heard it.
President Obama needs to learn that vacillation doesn't winwars. His administration is vacillating, if not fragmenting, over Afghanistan.In the aftermath of McChrystal's relief, the appointment of Gen. David Petraeusgives the administration the opportunity to pursue a focused, coherent policy.