Those aren’t easy words for me to write, but the President has no choice after his field commander in Afghanistan aired scathing criticisms of the administration and the President himself in an interview with, unbelievably, Rolling Stone:
The top U.S. war commander in Afghanistan is being called to the White House for a face-to-face meeting with President Obama after issuing an apology Tuesday for an interview in which he described the president as unprepared for their first encounter.
In the article in this week’s issue of Rolling Stone, Gen. Stanley McChrystal also said he felt betrayed and blind-sided by his diplomatic partner, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, as he and his aides took shots at other top officials.
McChrystal’s comments are reverberating through Washington and the Pentagon after the magazine depicted him as a lone wolf on the outs with many important figures in the Obama administration.
It characterized him as unable to convince some of his own soldiers that his strategy can win the nation’s longest-running war and dejected that the president didn’t know about his commendable military record.
In Kabul on Tuesday, McChrystal issued a statement saying: “I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened.”
He’s damn right it should never have happened. Forget the venue (Rolling Stone? WTF?), one of the pillars of the American constitutionalism is absolute deference to and respect for the civilian chain of command on the part of the military. It’s something that’s been drilled into our officers for so long and so hard that it’s become almost reflexive. The President has a constitutional role as Commander in Chief, and for any military man to disparage publicly the President of the United States or his ambassadors is by extension to disparage the Constitution itself and carries the faint whiff of Caesarism.
“But what about the general’s rights of free speech,” one may ask. First, they were necessarily and voluntarily limited when he swore his oath and donned the uniform. No captain would tolerate being openly berated by a corporal, nor can any president tolerate being openly insulted (and that’s what it was) by his generals. The principles of chain of command and civilian control demands severe discretion on the part of the military, and McChrystal violated that.
Second, he has reasonable avenues to make his complaints known: he can talk to his superiors directly, including the President. If that doesn’t work, he can testify before relevant committees of Congress to air his concerns. And if that doesn’t work, he can always resign and return to civilian life, reassuming his full right of free speech, and then blast away.
But to castigate the President in a magazine? That’s three strikes in one, general. You’re out.
As I wrote, it’s not easy for me to advocate the dismissal of General McChrystal. Not only does he have a heretofore honorable record, but, at first glance, I largely agree and sympathize with his criticisms. But his method of airing was unacceptably insubordinate. As President Truman did with General MacArthur, President Obama should fire General McChrystal.
And then, one hopes, he’ll replace him with a modern Matthew Ridgway.
RELATED: Byron York examines General McChrystal’s real offense and says it was just a matter of time before the general stuck his foot in his mouth. Jed Babbin argues that Obama cannot fire McChrystal. Meanwhile, Politico reports that McChrystal reviewed the Rolling Stone article and didn’t complain. Hmmm…