Wednesday, October 28, 2009

"He has told us what he thinks when it can make a difference, and for that we should be grateful."

This piece by Jon Meacham is a bit old, but I just saw this the other day, and I thought it was on-point:

The McChrystal incident raises an interesting question: if commanders cannot speak their minds in such a forum—and the general was the very model of reason and grace—then what are the rules for commanders to engage in public debate? Many liberals have suddenly discovered Article II of the Constitution, arguing that civilian control of the military means soldiers should not express their views outside the chain of command. There is much to be said—in some senses, everything to be said—for officers restricting their comments, but I suspect the left would be taking a very different view of McChrystal's speaking his mind if the general were arguing a position with which it agreed.

In politics and in war, truth can be elusive; often all we can do is muddle through, trying to make the best of things. McChrystal knows better than anyone the complexities of what he faces, and if you read the whole speech he delivered in London you see that he was at pains to make the difficulties at hand as clear as possible.

He goes on:

History is not very helpful on this point. Douglas MacArthur is a bad example. He defied a president; McChrystal has not yet even disagreed with one. Still, the cultural imperatives within the armed forces are clear. As our longtime defense correspondent John -Barry notes, the tradition in the American military is captured best in Gen. George C. Marshall's dictum that commanders should present their views in private and then resign if they disagree sufficiently with the decision of the political leadership.

The issue is complicated, but then most issues of significance are. McChrystal appears to be a good man trying to do a nigh-impossible job. At least the general in whose hands lie the lives of thousands of soldiers and in whose success may lie our own national security chose to be clear now, in real time, when it matters, rather than waiting for a book contract. He has told us what he thinks when it can make a difference, and for that we should be grateful.

Full disclosure: I support staying the course in Afghanistan. That being said, I don't think Obama is "dithering," by waiting a bit to see how the elections turn out. I also think it's outrageous that certain being are suggesting that Gen. McChrystal should STFU, or that he is somehow undermining his CiC. McChrystal was handpicked by Obama, and gave his assessment of the situation. He has made clear that he will follow whatever orders are given. He has not disagreed with the President's decision, because the President hasn't made a decision yet, and that final decision will be ultimately up to President Obama.

As to the larger debate, I think it behooves everyone to take McChrystal's recommendations seriously. As far as the politics are concerned, I've no doubt that if McChrystal had argueda position they disagreed with, plenty of righties would be in an uproar, and Lefties would be hailing him, as opposed to hurling insults. Partisan politics has become war by other means. Nevertheless, suggesting that a general who does his job by giving his commander-in-chief true counsel is doing anything but his duty is disgraceful. The fomentation of division between the President and his generals, by either side, to score political points, or to further personal agendas, is even more so.

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