For the record: I am an ex-military enlisted man who served proudly in the United States Navy. I took to the training that I was given and graduated at the top of my class for nearly every event, training or protocol I was ever assigned. I endeavored to be the best of the military and to be an example to everyone I worked with and every civilian I met. I held my work in the military to be a necessary part of my contribution to the society I lived in and I am confident that most military men and women will say something similar. I left the military in good standing and with an Honorable Discharge at the end of my tour, with no regrets.
Please understand, I did not always agree with the orders or messages of those who were my superiors, nor always the civilian authorities who directed them, but that was irrelevant. My duty was to work toward the maximum resolution of the problem with the minimum of military force required towards that end. My personal agreement was not a requirement to perform those orders to the best of my ability; end of story. I did not have to believe in the mission, I did not have to like the mission, I did not have to subscribe to the mission. But I did have to COMPLETE the mission as well as I could, with the resources, adequate or not, at my disposal. I just wanted you to understand where I stood personally before I attempt to answer this question. I shall endeavor to answer this question in a few parts.
Part I – Remember what you signed up for…
I shall list the Oath of Office that the General signed up for years ago and perhaps has forgotten due to the longevity of his service or perhaps the swollen nature of his current ego.
“I, _____ (SSAN), having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God.” (DA Form 71, 1 August 1959, for officers.)
This was given to the General on a plaque upon his graduation. I make mention of it because it is one of the first documents that he would have received expressing the serious nature of his relationship to the United States military. This information is further enhanced by an understanding that the military members who defend our freedom of speech necessarily give up some portion of their own. Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the law that governs military conduct, dictates that “any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense … shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”
So no matter what the rationale he may give for allowing his staff to engage in such language (stress of the event, promoting camaraderie of his team, informal tough-guy talk to reduce stress) there was the potential that such language could have dangerous consequences should it have gotten out. Allowing such language to be overheard by journalists of a publication such as Rolling Stone (which I am not bashing) known for the depth of their reporting was certain to have long-reaching consequences that I am not sure the General was aware of.
Part II – Are you so good, you can be forgiven anything?
It is said that much can be forgiven a warrior’s behavior if he is winning battles. I do not consider the work being done in Afghanistan recently to be of a winning caliber. To be fair to the General, he did acquire, in my opinion, one of the most difficult land wars ever, against an enemy that is not uniformed, that fights a guerrilla war using human shields and endeavors to attack an enemy always at his weakest points. An enemy that has a long history of using such tactics successfully against the Russians in an early era of warfare.
It was the height of hubris of the American government to believe it could quell the violence in this region with the simple application of advanced, technological, and military superiority. This region has been in conflict for more than two thousand years and is likely to remain in conflict, even after we are gone from it, hopefully sooner rather than later. The General and his staff are working from a severe deficit, particularly because the war has drawn on for so much longer than was expected, the war having lost the popularity amongst Americans, and because of unfavorable events such as the friendly-fire accident of the famed athlete Pat Tillman in 2004.
General McChrystal’s plan, which was given the green light by the Obama Administration, given the resources he requested and the ability to apply them in any manner he saw fit is still not yielding the promised results. The Afghan security forces are still timid and relatively ineffectual in maintaining peace in the region without the backing of the US forces deployed there, the Kandahar offensive has been delayed again, and the recent offensive Operation Moshtarak, a joint operation with the local governments, while it did destroy the poppy and drug production of the Taliban, did not break the back of the insurgency as expected.
Such limited results will not forgive indiscretions of the type witnessed and recorded by the reporters of the Rolling Stone and will do nothing to paint the General’s staff in a positive light. When all is said and done, the General is responsible for the behavior and demeanor of his troops and officers. There have been many precedents for Presidents firing Generals throughout America history, Lincoln alone, fired at least eight. So this should not come as a surprise to anyone that it is possible, likely and considering the nature of the offenses probable. What surprises me is the emotionally charged response to having General McChrystal even be responsible for what he has said, even if he HAS apologized. This is not some kid fresh out of college, this is a four-star General!
He has to know that there would be some consequence for his actions and that if the tables were turned and some enlisted man were saying the same things about him that he and his staff were saying about the Administration, he would bring that enlisted man up on charges, immediately. This man is responsible for the safety of thousands of soldiers and effectively protecting the lives of tens of thousands of citizens both foreign and domestic. I would expect him to be the paragon of virtue that his job requires him to be. To make only the errors that anyone who has considered the plans and operations that he has been involved with, that were unavoidable. To fall because you were indiscreet is simply irresponsible.
Part III – The Real Questions
As to whether I believe the General should be fired, I believe that there are several pros and cons which should (and I hope likely WILL) be considered. The General has an amazing level of loyalty from his troops and the local governments. Both are pleased to work and follow his orders and policies and in that regard, he has performed excellently. He has been singularly dedicated to his work having spent less than 30 days home since he was assigned there in 2003.
General McChrystal is doing well in a very hard job, trying to make a success of the war the president said is essential. He appears to be the only person involved in the Afghan war who understands how to integrate political, economic and military effects. He has shown that he is definitely the MIND necessary to win the war. The questions to be asked are:
a) Is he the MAN to win the war? Can he control his personal bias and dislike for the administration he works for enough to do his job?
b) Is he really as apolitical as he should be or is he responding to Republican pressures to attack the Obama administration as part of their agenda to undermine the President and his policies?
c) Can he control his team and their behavior long enough to remain focused on the task of completing his mission objectives and getting out of the country, alive with minimum casualties and maximum effectiveness?
d) Can he and his team coordinate enough of the remaining local governments and police services to establish a long-term method of dealing with the Taliban insurgency once the US forces are, either heavily diminished or completely out of country?
e) If General McChrystal cannot answer these questions effectively and likely to President Obama’s satisfaction, he will not be leading his forces, no matter how loyal, toward what we hope will be, a satisfactory conclusion. The only other question would be: Can anyone besides General McChrystal manage any better than he did?
Part IV – Partisan Politics (or just plain stupidity) Strikes Again
It is a sad thing such poor behavior has become the order of the day in our very partisan politics. I would have hoped our military would have the good sense to stay out of such power struggles and focus on the job at hand, unfortunately that has not appeared to be the case. The loss of General McChrystal has seriously undermined the appearance of the US government in the eyes of foreign diplomats but such behavior simply cannot be tolerated by anyone in the military toward the governing civilian authority.
It undermines the Office of the President if President Obama allows such behavior to go without consequence. And considering the behavior of the media, the political pundits and the political parties who are constantly seeking weakness in the President, either in his policies, or his behavior, it is not in his best interest to allow someone who IS under his completely control and authority to fire, to go unpunished. There are many of you who believe that General McChrystal’s behavior is acceptable, but that, my friend, is what coups are made of. I am not saying he cannot have an opinion, I am saying that as a General in the United States Army, he needs to learn when it is appropriate to voice that opinion.
So I say to anyone in the military, if you cannot remain loyal to the Commander-in-Chief, it is time for you to return to the States, resign your commission and find another line of work where you can bash your boss, with relatively impunity, until he fires you.
Thaddeus Howze Atreides