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Jewish World Review
June 25, 2010
/ 13 Tamuz 5770
We Just Can't Have This, Or: Why the General Had to Go
"The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States...."
--Constitution of the United States
Article II, Section 2
It's not exactly a state secret that Joe Biden is a jabbering embarrassment. Or that Barack Obama's performance as president of the United States can be disappointing.
But such judgments can safely be left to opposition politicians, inky wretches and the whole legion of kibitzers and second-guessers that populate public life. A general in the field, who has his own chain of command to protect and preserve, shouldn't be mouthing off about his commander-in-chief, or even various civilian officials. Not in a republic that has always subordinated the military to civil authority. But that's what Gen. Stanley McChrystal, U.S.A., and his little coterie have just done in an unbuckled interview in that well-known military publication, Rolling Stone.
Nor does the general deny it; instead, he's been apologizing for it. But there is no excuse for such insubordination; there is only appropriate discipline. Even the greenest second lieutenant knows that if he lets some private or sergeant get away with sassing him, he's just established a new standard of conduct for the whole outfit, and it's not a high one. You'd think a four-star general would have learned as much by now. This one clearly hasn't. He's come entirely too close to the line before, but this time he's stepped well over it. And we, meaning We the People, just can't have this.
Once upon a time, namely in 1951, a president and commander-in-chief by the name of Harry S. Truman finally came to the end of his patience with another general -- a far more celebrated one, indeed one of the greatest generals of the 20th century -- and relieved the legendary Douglas MacArthur of his command, knowing full well the political firestorm he would ignite.
But it had to be done, and Harry Truman was just the man to do it, thank goodness. Else, he would have betrayed his oath of office and his duty as commander-in-chief.
There are some things more important than political calculation, like the integrity of the chain of command.
There are some things a commander-in-chief cannot afford to ignore.
There are some displays of impudence that a president of the United States dare not overlook -- at the risk of undermining not just his personal authority but the military's subordination to civil officials in a republic.
It doesn't matter what Stanley McChrystal and company may think of Barack Obama so long as they don't noise it about. It matters greatly that they never disrespect him in public.
Harry Truman, an old captain of artillery, understood very well that neither he nor the country could any longer afford Douglas MacArthur's egotism. And that no army has room for more than one commander-in-chief.
As that earlier president summed up the general's attitude in his diary: "He's worse than the Cabots and the Lodges. They at least talked to one another before they told God what to do. Mac tells God right off."
It was inevitable that the general would go too far. And when he did, he had to go. It was as simple as that.
By relieving the Gen. McChrystal of his command, this time Barack Obama acted as if he were president of the United States -- not some detached observer forever analyzing, temporizing, and generally agonizing over the pros and cons of his own policies. He wasted little time relieving this year's American Caesar of his command -- without accepting excuses, or one of those "I'm sorry but..." apologies that isn't really much of one.
The only thing this president really needed to tell General McChrystal at this point was: "You are dismissed." If he hadn't, he would have risked some honest confusion about just who is in charge of the armed forces of the United States. If the president is uncertain on that point, the Constitution isn't -- and must be upheld. And be seen to be upheld.
General McChrystal, whose services to his country should be remembered with gratitude, had nevertheless become an obstacle to accomplishing the mission in Afghanistan. And like any other obstacle, he needed to be cleared away. Forthwith. Because we just couldn't have this.
Paul Greenberg Archives
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