Friday, June 25, 2010

Obama Gets It Right--Sort Of

The picture of Gen. Douglas MacArthur with President Harry Truman was taken shortly before Truman fired MacArthur for insubordination. Exaggerated comparisons to that historic event are being made about the recent firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal by President Barack Obama. Although there are similarities, the McChrystal situation is not on the same level as MacArthur/Truman, McClellan/Lincoln or even Kennedy/Walker.

First of all let's establish that I think that Barack Obama is an empty suit with an empty head, a duplicitous deceiver, an occasional outright liar, a hopelessly incompetent executive, and a surrender-and-declare-a-victory President. And he's a bit of a socialist, too. So there! Nyah! I can both believe and forthrightly and publicly say this because of two factors. The First Amendment, and the fact that Barack Obama is not now, nor will he ever be, my boss.

Unlike the chief executive of almost any other western nation, the President is both the head of state and the head of government. And in his capacity as head of government, the Constitution makes him the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Like it or not, that means that all military personnel from the lowest private to the highest five star general all work for and under the orders of the President. Unfortunately for all concerned, that President right now is Barack Obama.

Let's establish a few facts before proceeding. Unlike MacArthur and McClellan who were also fired, McChrystal was not grossly insubordinate, nor did he refuse to follow a presidential order or substitute his own orders for those of the President. That's in his favor. But the rabid Obama haters on talk radio and the blogs who believe that McChrystal was some sort of innocent saint wronged by a crazed President are simply blinded by their hatred for Obama. McChrystal himself surely must know the dictum "if you can't respect the man, respect the office."

McChrystal's major sin was to allow himself to be interviewed by the left wing, anti-military, drug-addled, politics for dummies publication known as Rolling Stone. McChrystal made some fairly innocuous but negative comments about Obama, Vice President Biden, and the Secretary of Defense. His staff was not so reticent, and made very pointedly insulting comments about the same people. In the military as in executive management, the commander is responsible for and charged with maintaining good order among his subordinates. What the staff people said goes to the command skills of McChrystal.

Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman jointly stated that McChrystal's comments were "inappropriate and inconsistent with the traditional relationship between the commander in chief and the military." That left the President with the choice of firing the general or finding a way to keep him on. Obama chose to fire him. I can't find fault with that decision, despite my deeply negative feelings toward this president. As part of his duty as Commander-in-Chief, it is the president's responsibility to maintain good military order. That is difficult to do with a loose cannon giving interviews to birdcage-liner publications like Rolling Stone.

In addition, America has always held that civilian authority must be above military authority. Presidents who have served as high-ranking military officers and those who have never served in the military at all have consistently upheld that civilian authority. A major public breach of respect for the Commander-in-Chief endangers that authority, even if the actions of the general do not rise to the level of outright insubordination. This dictum has nothing to do with the actual battlefield command skills of the officer who has made the criticism of the civilian authority.

In addition, Obama had another hurdle to overcome. After joining the chorus of liberal negativity about General Petraeus and the surge during the election, Obama hand-picked McChrystal as Petraeus's replacement and kicked Petraeus upstairs. And though he was nearly-fatally slow in doing so, Obama ultimately supported McChrystal's Afghanistan version of Petraeus's surge in Iraq. Except for imposing a July 2011 date for beginning withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, Obama bought McChrystal's strategy in toto. But McChrystal's statements, along with those of his staff, were critical of the withdrawal date, despite having obtained essentially everything they had asked for. Amazingly, the fact that McChrystal told the magazine that he had voted for Obama was another reason for his command being taken from him. Even Obama recognized that this sort of political statement should not be coming out of the mouth of a major military figure.

There was also an additional figure whom McChrystal and his staff tarred. In my mind, they said nothing about civilian leader and retired Gen. Karl Eikenberry that wasn't true, including the fact that Eikenberry regularly bad-mouthed McChrystal to the President. But again, Eikenberry is serving in a civilian capacity under the direction of the President, and the military man McChrystal was way off base making disparaging remarks about the civilian authority, no matter how true.

Obama also found himself in the uncomfortable position of removing the man who convinced him to move in a direction not beloved by the left wing anti-military wing of the Democratic Party. But once again, I have to give the devil his due. Having made the decision to fire McChrystal, Obama turned to the only military man of the necessary stature both in the military and civilian sectors who could keep the McChrystal firing less than a total disaster. And that man is the selfsame Gen. Petraeus whom the Democrats had called Gen. Betrayus during the election.

Placing Petraeus back into field command is at least a minor admission that the Democrats were either lying during the election, or simply besmirching a man they were frightened of. And Obama must be aware that many, including me, will recognize the intelligence of the Petraus decision while also recognizing who the better man is. Petraeus is now Obama's admitted "best man for the job," and Petraeus must also be given credit for the sacrifice and patriotism he is showing by stepping down from a loftier position, without complaint, to help a President and a party which had treated him like a leper just two years earlier.

And so, unlike the venom being sprayed by rabid pro-McChrystal, anti-Obama zealots, I am going on record as saying that for one of those rare, if not entirely singular moments, Barack Obama actually acted like a chief executive. He made a decision, and he made it quickly. And however it finally turns out, the decision itself is hard to fault on solid factual, historical and constitutional grounds. I won't be holding my breath for another one any time in the near future. But, just this one time, I tip my hat to the current Commander-in-Chief. I also add that he had the decency to allow McChrystal to resign rather than firing him outright.

17 comments:

AndrewPrice said...

I agree. I think that McChrystal is wrong here. He's violated military protocol that requires that American soldiers not criticize their commander in chief in public. And I would feel the same if it was a Republican or Democratic president.

It is too important to our nation that our military remain nonpartisan, for this to be condoned. When the military becomes just another political institution, and politics trumps chain of command, that's when you end up with dictatorships and banana republics.

That said, I think that this will reflect very poorly on Obama. He was sold to the public as a different Democrat -- one who didn't have their well-documented yellow streak. But after his dithering about Afghan policy (which is becoming a total failure -- as I'll discuss in a couple days), this will only remind people why they don't trust Democrats in charge of our military.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: And as always, he has to satisfy the wings of his party which are either hesitant about war. or totally against war in all cases on principle. And as usual, he tries to satisfy both and ends up satisfying neither. In the long run, this will hurt Obama more than it will help him. Jeffrey Lord at The American Spectator suggests that each time a waffling president wins the first round (e.g. MacArthur and Truman), he then loses every round thereafter with the public, though he may end the career of the general involved. Ultimately, the public comes around to MacArthur's way of thinking: There is no substitute for victory.

StanH said...

I have to agree Lawhawk, Barry swerved into a right decision. I am most happy for the young soldiers that have a real warfighter in Gen Petraeus as their leader in the field. His first move as of today is changing the rules of engagement – hallelujah, and I actually heard Barry elude too victory…wow! …what a difference a day makes.

Tennessee Jed said...

Hawk - you had me at "Obama is an empty suit with an empty head." That said, I totally agree with the need to fire him and Obama's right to do so. Interviewing with Rolling Stone? What was he thinking? Talk about poor judgement. The irony of turning to Petraeus is indeed delicious, and if this sorry episode brings us a step closer to make Barrack a one termer, I could not be happier.

AndrewPrice said...

I have to echo the idea of the irony of turning to Petraeus -- especially in light of Obama's failure to join the vote sanctioning Moveon.org for their General Betrays ad.

By the way, be careful attacking Rolling Stone, they seem to be the only shop in town that's doing journalism against the Obama administration. How sad is that, that these things are being uncovered by Rolling Stone!

Tam said...

Was Gen. McChrystal discharged from the military, or was he just removed from his position in Afghanistan?

AndrewPrice said...

Tam, He was removed from command, but was not removed from the military. Whether or not he ultimately resigns, that I don't know. But he wasn't "fired" in the sense of being discharged.

LawHawkRFD said...

Stan: Petraeus has that rare combination of military genius and the ability to get along with the civilian authority without being obsequious (unlike the general who chose the other route from McChrystal--abandon your military side and prosecute the Navy SEALs).

Writer X said...

In this situation, I think General Petraeus is the only one who looks like the bigger figure in this whole scenario. I completely agree that what McChrystal did was stupid (and what did he expect he'd get when he voted for Obama?), but I'm not sure Obama had much choice other than to replace him after he *cough cough* resigned. His only saving grace was that he did it quickly. And now the President has to listen to Gen. Petraeus, a man he took glee in insulting two years ago? Karma is a wonderful thing.

Great post, LawHawk!

LawHawkRFD said...

Tennessee: The ultimate irony is the reappointment of Petraeus. It's a tacit admission that he knows more about what to do than anybody in the administration. As I hinted in the article, this is a long-term win for Petraeus and only a short-term respite for Obama.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: Petraeus has shown himself to the far superior human being. He stepped down to an area commander because his country needed him and his commander-in-chief wanted him. Obama, on the other hand, had no other real alternatives that wouldn't tick off a major portion of the electorate.

I tend to agree to a point about Rolling Stone, but only because their criticism wakes up a portion of the far left to Obama's ideological weakness. Unfortunately, the mag doesn't reach enough serious voters to make much of a difference.

LawHawkRFD said...

Tam: He was allowed to resign. He could stay with the military, and within the ranks wouldn't lose much prestige. But he may choose to leave. But he was not removed from the military involuntarily ("cashiered" I think is the expression for being kicked out).

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: I responded to Tam before I saw your comment. But that tells us that he gets to make his own decision. Though it's somewhat of a humiliation from the civilian point of view to be taken out of command, I suspect the men would actually think better of him for his defiance, even though it cost him his command. But at least Obama left the final decision to McChrystal himself.

LawHawkRFD said...

WriterX: I think that's a very good analysis of the situation. The ultimate winner is Petraeus, and the long-range winner is the American people.

Joel Farnham said...

LawHawk,

The bigger man takes the biggest humiliation.

If Obama had taken the humiliation of his General of ridiculing him, Obama would have been shown as weak to our enemies.

Obama took the path of least resistance.

This is POLITICAL theatre at it's best. Obama did right, but in the long run, he did wrong.

He lost and doesn't know it yet. He lost us. The people that in the long run count.

He won't get re-elected.

He showed to the world that he is tough, but in our world if he could find it in his heart to forgive McChrystal, he would have won us. As it is.... he screwed the pooch.

LawHawkRFD said...

Joel: Obama does wrong most the time. And I'm sure McChrystal is by far the better man. The real purpose of the article was simply to demonstrate that for once, Obama did the right thing in the right way. There was no way this could be a "win" for Obama, and the best he could hope for is to keep it from becoming a loss. But in the long run, he loses anyway. McChrystal may have made inappropriate and derogatory remarks that a military subordinate shouldn't be making, but that doesn't mean that what he said was either wrong or untrue. He just picked the wrong time and the wrong place to do it.

Joel Farnham said...

LawHawk,

Who picked the wrong time? Who picked the wrong place?

I see this as a loss for Obama.

I know his esteem in the world at large is increased, but in our country? I mean he impresses the dictators of this world, but does he impress us?

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