In a choice between General Stanley McChrystal and President Barack Obama to head national security policy (or to determine which strategy and tactics to use to implement that policy), I would, without hesitation, pick the former. I believe he has a better understanding of the risks we face and the means we need take to mitigate them.
That said, I cannot defend, indeed, strongly criticize the comments the top commander in Afghanistan made to the Rolling Stone‘s Michael Hastings. I agree with Defense Secretary Robert Gates who, according to Politico
publicly rebuked Gen. Stanley McChrystal Tuesday, saying in a statement that the top commander in Afghanistan had “made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment” in the biting remarks he and his aides made in a Rolling Stone article about President Barack Obama and others in the administration.
Simply put, a military commander should not make “dismissive and derogatory remarks to a magazine reporter about U.S. government officials involved in” setting military policy. Once again, the indispensable Jim Geraghty:
Many people I know think highly of McChrystal, and he has earned his accolades. But a general in the American armed forces cannot, on the record, mock or deride the vice president and the U.S. ambassador, much less the president of the United States. You and I can; we’re just some schmoes; we don’t report to him in the chain of command. I’m sure many generals have thought many colorful expressions of criticism toward presidents over the years, but they cannot blab them to reporter.
Emphasis added. In our system of government, the military is subordinate to civilian authority. You and I may prefer McChrystal’s judgment to that of Obama, but the latter was elected and the former serves at his pleasure. Criticize Obama we can — and should — but McChrystal has a duty to follow his commands. If he disagrees with the president, he should make his disagreements known to the Administration, but through private channels not in a widely-circulated (or even a not widely-circulated) publication.UPDATE: Via the Washington Examiner a joint statement from Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.,
We have the highest respect for General McChrystal and honor his brave service and sacrifice to our nation. . . . General McChrystal’s comments, as reported in Rolling Stone, are inappropriate and inconsistent with the traditional relationship between Commander-in-Chief and the military. The decision concerning General McChrystal’s future is a decision to be made by the President of the United States.
UP-UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds reminds us how times have changed: “Flashback: Media Promoted Military Criticism Of President Bush. Well, sure. Under a Republican President, it’s listen to the generals. Under a Democratic President, it’s all about civilian control of the military.”