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McChrystal's Final Service

As I poked around the blogosphere, reading the discussions about the relieving of General McChrystal, I've felt a theory emerge on just what happened -- and, if true, means that the general's sacrifice was done as an ultimate expression of loyalty and was a tremendous gift to President Obama.

If he has the wisdom to accept it.

The relationship between President Obama and the top ranks of the military have never been good. Obama has always had stronger alliances with the anti-military faction of the left than with the pro-military side, embracing (loosely, as is his wont) those whose anti-war beliefs extend to disdain (at the best) to those who wage war.

It had gotten so bad (at least as bad as the all-too-plausible but never-verified tales out of the Clinton White House, with military aides allegedly told to not wear uniforms and military personnel treated like furniture or otherwise shown contempt) that McChrystal found himself waging battle on two fronts -- one against the terrorists in Afghanistan, one against Obama administration appointees who aggressively leaked detrimental information, unreasonably restricted his options, unnecessarily damaged our relations with critical allies, and in general brought their domestic politics into an arena where it could do nothing but harm.

In brief, McChrystal found his loyalty (and that of the many, many honorable, decent, and valorous men and women under his command) was being taken for granted -- and not reciprocated.

Constitutionally, that's perfectly fine. The military must remain loyal to the civilian leadership, but there is no requirement that that leadership must reciprocate.

Practically speaking, though, loyalty demands to be a two-way street. A true leader understands that he or she owes loyalty in return to those who have given theirs. Faith must be returned, or that loyalty will weaken -- or break.

McChrystal, I theorize, saw that the Obama administration needed an abject lesson in that principle -- something that is ingrained in anyone who has ever been even a moderately successful leader or manager. (Obviously, that excludes the president, the vice-president, the Secretary of State, and a lot of others in the Obama regime.) So he engineered (or, at least, exploited) an opportunity to teach them.

The on-the-record disdain McChrystal uttered or tolerated among his closest staff was the sort that could not be tolerated. He did the one thing that an officer as high-ranking and prominent as he could -- he openly showed his lack of respect to his superiors.

That put Obama in an untenable position. McChrystal's conduct could not be ignored, could not be excused, could not be tolerated. It had to be answered, and answered firmly.

In brief, McChrystal put Obama in a position where he had no choice but to assert his authority as Commander In Chief, and remind all concerned that the supremacy of our civilian leadership is something that can not be questioned or challenged within our military.

McChrystal, first by allowing the reporting of those remarks and then by submitting his resignation, boxed in Obama to two simple choices. Either he had to refuse the resignation, granting him absolution with a very public "go and sin no more" gesture and a statement of profound contrition and gratitude from McChrystal for the second chance, or accept the resignation of his hand-picked "savior of Afghanistan" and find a new commander for the increasingly-difficult struggle.

The one option not open to Obama was the one to which he is most comfortable: to "vote present." To do nothing. To step out, make a few grandiose, vague statements, and let the problem just go away. No, he had to take a decisive action in this matter, and be the Commander In Chief.

Yesterday, President Obama -- for the first time in his administration -- acted like the Commander In Chief he is -- but has been in title only. He reminded the military that he is their Constitutional leader, and showed that no general -- no matter how popular, no matter how he was Obama's hand-picked for commander in Afghanistan -- is free to reciprocate the contempt and disdain members of the Obama administration has shown them.

There was an even stronger lesson for Obama, one that I wonder if McChrystal planned as well. Obama's choice of General David Petraeus to replace McChrystal in Afghanistan was, if possible, an even stronger lesson in loyalty to the Commander In Chief.

When Petraeus was being considered by Congress for command in Iraq, Obama was a serious critic of the general's. Obama's allies and backers conducted a full-force assault on the general's ideas and even his character (although MoveOn.org's desperately trying to erase any signs of its "General Betray-Us" ad it published before he gave a single word of testimony) , and in the end Obama found something else more important to do than cast his vote on Petraeus' confirmation. (Another point that should not be flushed down the memory hole: the New York Times charged MoveOn.org considerably less than the going rate for their ad, then went back and re-billed them because the discount was so great that it qualified as a donation in kind.)

Now, he's had to go to Petraeus and ask him to, in effect, take a demotion (Petraeus had been McChrystal's superior) and return to the theatre. Petraeus didn't have to do so; hell, he's been talked about as a possible presidential contender in 2012, and this will, in all likelihood, end that speculation. (Personally, I find that slightly disappointing; Petraeus is my neighbor, with his legal residence not even 20 miles down the road from mine.)

Petraeus accepted this appointment because he is loyal to his commander in chief. He is demonstrating that he puts his oath and his obligations ahead of everything else -- even his personal feelings towards Obama and his cronies.

There is no guarantee that Obama will learn this lesson. Indeed, there is no guarantee that he will even recognize that he is being offered this lesson, at the price of McChrystal's career -- and possibly Petraeus' as well.

But we can hope he does. Because, like it or not, we're stuck with this guy until January of 2013. We can hope for the failure of his agenda (like Rush Limbaugh said, with his deliberately-provocative "I hope he fails" statement), but we do need a Commander In Chief who at least understands a bit of what that job entails.

The only question is -- can Obama learn it? Or is he utterly incapable of doing so, if it means -- even implicitly -- admitting error?

Lord, I hope so.


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Comments (24)

Sorry Jay, but you don't le... (Below threshold)
Upset Old Guy:

Sorry Jay, but you don't learn the lesson when you skip class. Your hope is ill-founded.

Yesterday, [Barry Lackwi... (Below threshold)

Yesterday, [Barry Lackwit] -- for the first time in his administration -- acted like the Commander In Chief he is

Like hell. All his advisors, civilian and military, told him that his only viable choice was to boot General McChrystal. So did the media, and the punditocracy. They made the decision, not him. All he did was implement the decision. Less than that, really, since the default position for a resignation is to accept it. Once McChrystal submitted his resignation, all Lackwit had to do was not refuse it.

Barry Lackwit remains an empty suit, unable and unwilling to do anything that requires any sort of leadership, courage, intelligence, or decision-making ability.

wolfwalker, don't ever unde... (Below threshold)

wolfwalker, don't ever underestimate Obama's ability to punt a tough choice. It's been his greatest strength to date. He had no practical choice, but he really could have kicked this down the road. He could have had Gates make the announcement. He could have deferred it pending an "investigation." He could have done a lot of things.

Instead, he did the one thing that you or I would have seen as the only choice. But he ain't you or me. He could have found a way to not hold yesterday's public announcement, if he'd tried hard enough.


Whether McChrystal's motive... (Below threshold)
Mac Lorry:

Whether McChrystal's motive was to shock Obama into acting like a real commander in chief or simply to punch-out before the crash as I speculated yesterday, McChrystal used the Rolling Stone reporter for his own purposes.

If Obama was half as smart as McChrystal he would ask McChrystal to go back to Afghanistan and take charge of the civilian side of the mission as soon as McChrystal can retire from the military. Of course, such strategic thinking is above Obama's pay grade.

Leadership would been publi... (Below threshold)

Leadership would been publicly reprimanding Joe Bid and the firing of Jim Jones, Richard Holbrooke and Karl Einkenberry. Leadership is not shacking the hand picked general who supports the administration's purported objectives while retaining lackeys like Biden who do not.

Mr. President: What we have here is a failure to lead.

Jay Tea,I disagree... (Below threshold)

Jay Tea,

I disagree only slightly. McChrystal's big sin was to criticize His Wonderfulness. It had nothing to do with the CinC/military relationship.
It had to do with his EGO. The only time he gets angry is when he is criticized. In his remarks yesterday he made the statement that it was not a personal thing. That was when I knew it damn well was personal. Otherwise why, as a leader, would he mention it? Barry can't handle the truth.

Jay: He could have found... (Below threshold)

Jay: He could have found a way to not hold yesterday's public announcement, if he'd tried hard enough.

Exactly. Lackwit doesn't "try hard" at anything. He's never had to. I don't think he knows how. He's always had everything handed to him on a silver platter, from his start as a "community organizer" in the Windy City all the way up to today. He's never made his own decisions; either he lets other people decide for him, or he waits and hopes for events to work out in his favor. This is just another example of that: he stepped back and let McChrystal fall on his sword, as tradition and honor required, then jumped up to the lectern and claimed credit for it. And he did it so well that even you think he did something right!

Leopards don't change their spots, nor humans their basic personalities. An empty suit is Barry Lackwit, letting others do all the work while he takes the credit. That's all he's ever been; that's all he'll ever be.

Obama? Lesson learned? Do... (Below threshold)

Obama? Lesson learned? Don't count on it. The only unwavering loyalty he's shown is to the unions.

A fragile, over-inflated eg... (Below threshold)

A fragile, over-inflated ego and an extreme reluctance to want to shoulder responsibility. These are qualities so inherent in Obama's character yet are quite crippling to being a strong president irrespective of ideology. I am still confused as why it was the Rolling Stone that was able to bring McChrystal down. For me I think he just got fed up with serving under a very weak, distracted, vacillating, peevish Commander-in-Chief (the battle on two fronts as you mention) and at some point could no longer muster the ability to be discreet about it. I am guessing he is a smart enough man to have known that if Obama ever got wind of his distain his sensitive ego was not going to tolerate it. I would only have one question for McChrystal. He said he voted for Obama. Why?

My takeaway thought from th... (Below threshold)

My takeaway thought from this whole ordeal is that if such a "confession" by a top military official had occurred before Jan. 20, 2009, it would simply be "speaking truth to power" and the MSM would have spent days dissecting, expanding, and corroborating everything negative that was said. But now, McChrystal's comments are mentioned only in passing, with the focus of the reporting directed toward how Obama will handle the situation.

I agree that McChrystal was probably ready to exit his command in Afghanistan, and did what he did as a wake-up call for the Obama Administration.

It's also very ironic that McChrystal's resignation has put Obama into a corner politically, forcing him to "defend the indefensible" with respect to General Betray Us ... er, Petraeus.

It will be interesting to monitor the response of Code Pink and MoveOn.org to Obama's new-found respect for General Petraeus -- and whether the MSM even bothers to report their response at all.

Jay,You magnificen... (Below threshold)


You magnificent bastard!

I was up until 1:30 this morning adding to a lengthy piece concerning many of the topics you addressed, which you, once again, beat me to posting.

I'll get you someday.

Great piece.

-Shawn (Chone)

Shawn, I actually wanted to... (Below threshold)

Shawn, I actually wanted to post this before the firing, but had some technical difficulties that pushed it back a day.

So my ruining your whole night was accidental.

A happy accident, but accidental nonetheless.

And if you knew how many times DJ used to do that to me...


There is nothing worse, as ... (Below threshold)
recovered liberal democrat:

There is nothing worse, as a manager or commander or supervisor, than to be given responsibility with little or no authority to do your job.

I'd find it sad that there ... (Below threshold)

I'd find it sad that there is no one in the chain of command fit to take the lead in Afghanistan below Petraeus, if I thought that were the case.

I think there is a lot more to this episode that reflects on the military command AND the current administration. I suspect that Petraeus couldn't find a single qualified general who wouldn't threaten to resign or pull another Rolling Stone interview if assigned the position, so he HAD to take it himself.

That would be significant.

Sorry pal, but Hussein will... (Below threshold)

Sorry pal, but Hussein will not only LEARN nothing from this episode, he will take away an even greater contempt for the military--if that's possible. Hussein acted like the arrogant, self-absorbed narcissist he is, springing to "action" only when his delusional sense of Godhood has been threatened. And General Petreaus took the assignment, not due to any sense of loyalty to Hussein, but because he realizes that the soldiers in Afghanistan need someone who will work to keep them alive in spite of the political agenda and personal beliefs of thug in the White House.

The military swears allegia... (Below threshold)

The military swears allegiance to The Constitution, not the POTUS. Obama doesn't respect The Constitution or the military. It seems one general had enough of the treasonous actions that are weakening our defenses. It was truly a patriotic act on General McChrystal's part. He cares about his troops.
Will Barry learn from this? No, he is still puffed up by his summons and dismissal of the general. This is all about his ego. His pride came before the distraction to the mission. This all could have been avoided if he could ignore criticism and respect the office of the presidency.

"There is no guarantee that... (Below threshold)
retired military:

"There is no guarantee that Obama will learn this lesson."

"The military swears allegiance to The Constitution, not the POTUS"


In the Armed Forces EXCEPT the National Guard (Army or Air)

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

In the National Guard (Army or Air)

I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the State of (STATE NAME) against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the Governor of (STATE NAME) and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to law and regulations. So help me God.

Guide Note: There has been some controversy about whether the phrase "So help me God" is mandatory. I have seen officers allow enlistees to omit these words, if they choose, according to their religious preference and beliefs. While federal law does not appear to make any part of the oath optional (see Title 10, Section 502 of the United States Code), military regulations often do. For example, the Army enlistment regulation (see Army Regulation 601-210, paragraph 6-18) makes the portion "So help me God" optional.

I must have been wrong. It ... (Below threshold)

I must have been wrong. It must have McChrystal taking one for the Country. I don't care whether Oblabna get's it or not.

FYI you said "abject lesson... (Below threshold)

FYI you said "abject lesson", it should have been "object lesson".

I find it utterly ir... (Below threshold)
Sarah Fan:

I find it utterly ironic that the current POTUS named a BUSH General to the post after what obama said about both of them.

For the military experts:</... (Below threshold)
gary gulrud:

For the military experts:

In light of Nuremberg what is the course of action when the CinC is a traitor, or simply gives orders that defy the Constitution, or gives orders that on execution amount to criminal conduct by the minions?

Test... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:


Having taken the Oath of En... (Below threshold)

Having taken the Oath of Enlistment several times, I now have a serious question for those who have more knowledge of UCMJ.
Military service is service to the country, supporting and defending the Constitution against all enemies "both foreign and domestic" and bearing true faith and allegiance to the same. Obeying the orders of the President of the United States and the Officers appointed over me, that's pretty clear. We know that within the military, if an officer or enlisted violates the Oath, a courts martial is convened and the offender is usually discharged from the service. We also know that in extreme cases that a junior in command may forcibly relieve a commander for just cause. We now have a CIC who refuses to enforce the Constitution, whose administration is packed with advisors who not only violate the Constitution (and encourage others to do the same), but in some cases are, in addition, criminals.
If the POTUS/CIC IS CIC is he subject to the UCMJ?
violation of Oath of Office
verbally disagrees with parts
of the Constitution
has NOT protected this Country
or its citizens from
foreign invasion, and
personally interferes
with protection of our

Following orders was no defense at Nurenburg, at any level, so what is the soldiers/militarys responsibility in following the orders of an Officer (CIC) who does NOT SUPPORT THE CONSTITUTION which places him in a position of being a DOMESTIC ENEMY, assuming the military officers do take their Oath seriously? (Keep in mind that this CIC has packed the civilian side with like minded individuals)

... we do need a Commander ... (Below threshold)

... we do need a Commander In Chief who at least understands a bit of what that job entails ...

That bit's true.

And we are all praying and trusting that President-Elect Sarah Louise Ronald Wilson Reagan Heath Palin will continue, between now and January of 2013, to sharpen her skills.






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