An Unnecessary Firing

June 23rd, 2010 at 5:58 pm | 23 Comments |

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The reasons why President Barack Obama fired his top field general, are probably more significant than the firing itself.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s “insubordination” in the celebrated Rolling Stone article, was not really insubordination at all. His comments were largely true and the article seems an excuse to get rid of him.

Had the war in Afghanistan been going as planned and as scheduled, McChrystal could have been quoted saying anything he liked, and he’d have kept his job. But Afghanistan is a mess.

Obama has never been comfortable with the “surge” plan that worked so effectively in Iraq for Gen. David Petraeus – friend and mentor to McChrystal. Obama had to be dragged grumbling and hesitant into going along with his Joint Chiefs of Staff’s recommendations for the war.  Obama trimmed the troop numbers requested and delayed decisions.

We don’t know yet, but it’s possible Obama may now review the whole Afghan scenario, and decide the war is no longer worth it. There’s nothing in his background or thinking that indicates any empathy for things military. Maybe now he’ll start pulling out.

Forget that nonsense that the firing is an attempt to refute the thinking of those who think Obama’s weak. He’s not weak in that way, he just doesn’t appreciate contrary opinions.

In a sense, the unidentified quotes in the Rolling Stone article that were snarky about many of the people around Obama, and on whom Obama depends, were not by McChrystal, and had the flavor of a bunch of guys sounding off over a beer.

They were the sort of cracks that happen in every office about management.

An oddity about this president who is hopeless about his own military, is that he’s now fired two field generals in the middle of a war – David McKiernan in 2009 to make way for McChrystal, whom Obama had never met.

Of several generals who challenged the president in the past, McChrystal’s remarks are the least inflammatory and most easily dismissed with a wrist slap.

In 1977 Maj. Gen. Jack Singlaub was chief of staff of U.S. forces in Korea, and publicly disputed then-President Jimmy Carter’s announced intention to withdraw American troops from the peninsula. Singlaub warned this would be disastrous, and open the way for the North to take over.

He was fired – but Carter canceled withdrawal plans. Singlaub today is a hero in Korea and among American soldiers. As an aside, Singlaub was a warrior rather like McChrystal, in that he’d parachuted into France in WWII to work with the resistance, was behind the Chinese lines before the Korean war and was a counter-insurgent in Indochina. Medals galore. Singlaub today is in his nineties and revered.

In 1951, President Harry Truman had to fire Gen. Douglas MacArthur who was not only openly contemptuous of Truman, but wanted to use the atomic bomb against the Chinese. He had to go.

In WWII, Gen. George Patton could easily have been fired for challenging higher authority and for slapping and calling a shell-shocked soldier a coward. But Patton was a winner. His foibles were excused because he was victorious on the battlefield. The president didn’t want to lose him.

If Afghanistan was a winning war – McChrystal’s admitted error in judgment would have not only been forgiven, but seen as a credential.

Recent Posts by Peter Worthington



23 Comments so far ↓

  • TerryF98

    Ignore.

  • easton

    terryF98, second. Nothing but mindless assertion.
    And Patton was very, very nearly fired and sent home in disgrace, he was relieved of major command, and he sat on the sidelines for a long time, put in charge of a “dummy” army in England. Only Marshall’s intervention with Ike saved him. Yes, Operation Fortitude worked well, but would never have been considered if Patton never misbehaved.

  • ottovbvs

    “Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s “insubordination” in the celebrated Rolling Stone article, was not really insubordination at all. ”

    ……to start with the term insubordination WAS NOT used by either the President or McChrystal himself……this is a Worthington fabrication…….however error of judgement was……….and it was an egregious error……..I personally wouldn’t have fired him but it’s the president’s prerogative and he exercised it

  • Nanotek

    “Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s “insubordination” in the celebrated Rolling Stone article, was not really insubordination at all. His comments were largely true and the article seems an excuse to get rid of him.”

    Plucked from thin air. At least argue from reality, Mr. Worthington. Quit making things up. President Obama relieved him for “undermining the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system.”

  • andydp

    “I prefer a loyal staff officer to a brilliant one.” — General George S. Patton

    Based on my 28 years of service, I can tell you the kind of conversations that were recorded in Rolling Stone are the sort heard at the mess hall or in the club and by every rank from PFC to 4 Star. EVERY military person has comments about their boss, the President, Sec Def. I read once you can go to the portrait galleries in the Pentagon and see spit marks on some of the Def Sec portraits.

    The difference here is, it became public record. It can’t be tolerated. Frankly, from this moment on, Pres Obama would wonder what Gen McChrystal would be saying about a new order.

  • Slide

    “His comments were largely true and the article seems an excuse to get rid of him.”

    What comments were “largely true”? That the National Security Advisor is a “clown”? The “bite me” comment” ? That having dinner with an ally is “so f****** gay”? These weren’t some policy discussions these were the arrogant juvenile comments of an undisciplined general and his staff undermining the civilian leadership of the military. Even McChrystal said that he undermined the mission in Afghanistan.
    Get your bead out of your partisan ass. This was the last thing Obama wanted but he had no choice. The general did it to himself with his undisciplined stupidity.

  • Rob_654

    Of course if someone is Successful they are given more leeway – but this General ain’t winning this war.

    AND given what this “General” did to he Pat Tillman family and the cover-up he has no moral character and should not be in charge of troops.

    To quote Al Davis: Just Win Baby

  • cporet

    “We don’t know yet, but it’s possible Obama may now review the whole Afghan scenario, and decide the war is no longer worth it. There’s nothing in his background or thinking that indicates any empathy for things military. Maybe now he’ll start pulling out.”
    Like some of the other commenters I agree: drivel. This is the second Worthington post that I’ve found unsatisifying. Here’s for hoping Obama does review and reconsider the whole Afghan scenario. It stinks and forever will stink. We cannot “win” in Afghanistan. There is no winning to be had. Uniting that country would be akin to uniting the plains Indians into a single coherent unit and calling it a country. I say cut our losses and get out. The English were defeated, the Russians were defeated, and we will be defeated by the intractible differences and tribal anomosity found in that barren and god-forsaken place.

  • tequilamockingbird

    cporet: This is the second Worthington post that you’ve found unsatisfying? I take it you’ve only read two.

    I wrote two more paragraphs and I’ve just deleted them. If you can’t say something nice ….

  • TemplarSC

    The President has not mentioned victory as an option when talking about the goals in Afghanistan. To me the whole premise of this article is faulty.

  • cporet

    tequila, You’re right. I suppose it means I should ignore any further posts of his, or keep reading and commenting. Meh. I guess it depends on the topic, as this is what draws me to an article not the author.

  • Oldskool

    “If Afghanistan was a winning war – McChrystal’s admitted error in judgment would have not only been forgiven, but seen as a credential.”

    Jesus christ you don’t know what you’re talking about and you can’t argue worth a damn. I hope you’re an intern cause Frum would be crazy to pay for this claptrap.

  • LFC

    Peter Worthington said… He’s not weak in that way, he just doesn’t appreciate contrary opinions.

    Obviously you’ve never read anything about Obama or ever spoken to people who have actually worked for him. This seems more like a childish projection onto the Obama administration of exactly how “The Decider” functioned. Pathetic.

  • Sinan

    Art 88, Uniform code of Military Justice

    Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct

  • sinz54

    I’m sure most of the officer corps has little regard for Obama–two-thirds of them are registered Republicans, according to surveys I’ve seen.

    BUT most of them are smart enough not to go mouthing off with personal attacks on the Obama Administration to Rolling Stone magazine–because for most of them, obeying constitutional authority transcends politics.

  • ktward

    Worthington is Frum’s Father-in-Law (more precisely, stepfather-in-law), and as such I have, on occasion, defended his presence at FF as a perfectly legit way for the embattled Frum to keep his blog venture ‘in the family’. (Not that I necessarily agreed with PW’s opinions.)

    But despite his long journo/pol career–quite controversial at times–Worthington’s regularly demonstrating anymore a grossly ill/un-informed state of editorial wherewithal that should be deemed, IMHO, entirely unacceptable at FF: at best, our thread comments should debate the ideas & perspectives of the columnist’s; at worst, we might have to point out contextual fallacies.

    But we certainly should not have to waste our time outlining basic factual deficiencies, as demanded by this column.

  • Sinan

    The military seems to love administrations that allow them to wage war. It has always been so from the beginning of time. That is why we have civilian control of the military. War, what is it good for….absolutely nothing……

  • nhthinker

    Peter Worthington gets much of this right. McCrystal did not “undermine the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system.” McCrystal is only “guilty” of allowing an enemy of the military to record normal military banter “on the record”.
    As the Rolling Stone author describes: ““in private, Team McChrystal likes to talk shit about many of Obama’s top people on the diplomatic side.”

    Generals are ALLOWED to think and say these types of things in private. All generals do that- They all play with this “fire”. They are just not allowed to say these things and be recorded and quoted for them by a member of the press.

    It may have been that the person in McCrystal’s staff that authorized Rolling Stone to record conversations thought he had an ability to review what Rolling Stone was going to write about. I am relatively sure Rolling Stone misrepresented their purpose for the article. They may also have recorded some conversations inappropriately or illegally as wiretapping laws are quite arcane. I would be curious about all the paperwork that was signed. Was it signed by absolutely everyone that was recorded?

    Obama has a chip on his shoulder since he was in high school.
    He was not going to let this one go. But, at the same time, he was not going to describe the truth of it. This “talking shit” happens all the time in private over beers. If beer conversations are reported in the press, then the President has the prerogative to fire those exposed.

    Is Obama’s decision an indication of what he thinks service people should be allowed to say “in private”? It would seem so- as he seems to indicate that the issue is the private conversations undermine civilian control. Obama had the opportunity to speak frankly as to his reasoning. He did not.

    This story is: Two months of military beer conversations recorded- military people recorded saying impolite things about civilian leadership- President fires the general that allows beer conversations.

  • TerryF98

    nh non thinker.

    Another load of utter imbecilic trash from our resident fool. Well done

  • nhthinker

    Terry eF’en 98 continues to demonstrate his/her inability to reason rationally but still wants to hurl invectives.
    Thanks for the mindless color.

  • florishes

    McChrystal made Admiral Mullen “physically sick”. Worthington here advocates for complete dismantlement of military command and control….

    I believe that history will show that McChrystal narrowly escaped a well-deserved court martial for breaking military discipline, denigrating leadership, setting a bad example to troops, creating an oppositional culture, and trying to blame his failure to set up the Kandahar offensive in a martially effective and professional manner on everyone but himself.

  • The American Spectator : Pundit Class, Not McChrystal, Exercised 'Bad Judgment'

    [...] But given the context of that comment — what was said, when it was said, and how it was said (in a casual conversation filled with good cheer, mirth and joking, light-hearted banter) — the comment clearly is not contemptuous of the civilian leadership. To the contrary: as Peter Worthington points out in "An Unnecessary Firing" at FrumForum: [...]

  • nhthinker

    “I am relatively sure Rolling Stone misrepresented their purpose for the article. They may also have recorded some conversations inappropriately or illegally as wiretapping laws are quite arcane. I would be curious about all the paperwork that was signed. Was it signed by absolutely everyone that was recorded?”

    My hunch seems to have been correct…
    Rolling Stone broke interview ground rules with McChrystal, military officials say

    But the command has concluded from its own review of events that McChrystal was betrayed when the journalist quoted banter among the general and his staff, much of which they thought was off the record. They contend that the magazine inaccurately depicted the attribution ground rules for the interviews

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/25/AR2010062504087_2.html?hpid=topnews&sid=ST2010062504101