Wednesday, June 23, 2010

McChrystal, Rolling Stone, and Obama's credibility

Unless you've just landed from Mars, you're aware  that the Rolling Stone profile of Stanley McChrystal is the news story of the hour.  The opinions are flying in fast and furious: fire him, don't fire him, can he be replaced, etc.  Afghan president Hamid Karzai evidently has implored the White House to keep him on as a "good partner" for that country; and the WaPo piece reporting this notes that
 "The endorsement illustrated what is likely to be McChrystal's best shot at saving his job and legacy: The general is arguably the U.S. official who has the most influence over, and credibility with, the Afghan government."
But IMHO, Dana Milbank's take is on the money: The disrespect and insubordination in the remarks of McChrystal and his staff require that McC be canned, especially after the comments of Obama's press secretary Robert Gibbs:

Only two words were missing from this disembowelment of the commander: You're fired. Gibbs hinted that Obama would deliver that message to McChrystal in person on Wednesday. If he doesn't, it's hard to see how he can maintain his credibility as a leader.

Even before the quotes in the Rolling Stone article (the accuracy of which McChrystal hasn't challenged), the commander in chief had surprised foes and worried friends by how far he allowed himself to be pushed. That accounts for an Washington Post-ABC News poll earlier this month finding that 57 percent of respondents viewed Obama as a strong leader and 43 percent did not; 14 months ago, it was 77 percent to 22 percent.

On the Hill, Democrats have ignored White House pleas for party unity, and intraparty disputes are preventing action on the budget, war spending, job creation, immigration reform and energy legislation. In the media, stalwart allies such as MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow panned Obama's speech on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Obama's own secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton, told the world about his unannounced plan to file suit over Arizona's new immigration law.

Republicans, in turn, have reached new levels of presidential disrespect. After Obama pushed BP to set aside money for those hurt by the oil spill, the opposition apologized -- to BP. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, took the extraordinary step of attacking Obama at a political rally over comments he says (and the White House denies) the president made in a private meeting.

Through it all, Obama has given precious little pushback, taking the disrespect like a President Dangerfield. When the public saw no anger from him over the oil spill, Gibbs assured Americans that he had, in fact, seen the president clench his jaw. Obama then insisted that he was looking for "whose ass to kick" on the Gulf Coast -- but no bottoms were bruised.

Now Gen. Bite Me may have gone too far even for President Dangerfield to tolerate. The insults from McChrystal and his men -- packaged with vulgarities, a middle finger and drunken singing in a Paris bar -- challenge not just Obama but the sacred concept of civilian control of the military. That's probably why figures such as Republicans Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) gave Obama a free pass on Tuesday to fire the general.

The president, nibbling around the edges, said nothing about McChrystal until remarking in the evening that the general had shown "poor judgment." Gibbs, in the briefing room, was similarly slow to bare his teeth when asked for Obama's reaction. "Well, suffice to say, our combatant commander does not usually participate in these meetings from Washington," he said of Wednesday's session in the Situation Room.

But it didn't suffice to say that, and reporters tried to provoke Gibbs, sniffling and sipping tea from a paper cup, to unload on McChrystal: "How can the president keep someone in his job who offers that level of insubordination? . . . Does the president at all feel betrayed?"

The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman, pointing out that McChrystal had already been in trouble (for disagreeing publicly with Biden), asked: "How many times can this man be taken to the woodshed?"

Gibbs followed the familiar route of expressing the president's anger. "I gave him the article last night, and he was angry," he announced.

"How so?" asked CBS's Chip Reid.

"Angry. You would know it if you saw it," Gibbs said.

Reporters pressed: "Did he pound the table? Did he curse? Can you elaborate?"

"No," Gibbs said. "I'm not going to elaborate."

Good answer. It's time for Obama and his aides to stop talking about his anger, and start acting on it.
Indeed.  Obama has put much stock in crafting the image of a calm, cool, unruffled, non-impulsive leader.  But this kind of insubordination requires a strong response, if for no other reason than to reaffirm the established principle of civilian authority over the military in the American system.  When Truman fired WW II and Korean War hero Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the latter war, MacArthur had achieved huge popularity and respect across the board; and Truman ran a great risk in dismissing him.  But the consensus view today is surely that Truman made the right decision.

Now some argue that Obama cannot fire McChrystal, because McChrystal is indispensable to the US effort in "Afpak."  For me, that only brings to mind a comment attributed to French president (and WW II military hero) Charles De Gaulle:  "The graveyards are full of indispensable men."

No comments:


Blog Archive

Cluster map

Search This Blog

ICAHD - 18,000 Homes Campaign (large banner)