Our society is an undisciplined one, especially when it comes to holding one’s tongue and keeping disputes private. The McChrystal flap serves as a reminder (if we needed one) that this lack of discipline extends to the military.
But even so, the airing of military grievances in Rolling Stone seems extraordinary enough to cry out for additional explanation. I assume that the conduct of Gen. McChrystal and his aides reflects deep frustration with the Obama adminstration over, among other things, (a) its inability for the better part of a year to formulate a plan for waging war in Afghanistan and, far more importantly, (b) the imposition of a July 2011 deadline or target date for beginning our withdrawal, along with (c) the decision to retain an ambassador to Afghanistan who doesn’t see eye-to-eye with McChrystal on key issues.
Add it all up, and It probably looks to McChrystal as if he has been dealt a losing hand. That’s hard to keep silent about, especially nowadays.
If McChrystal has, in fact, been dealt a losing hand (and I suspect he has), then it doesn’t matter much whether McChrystal stays or goes. A new commander would be something like an interim manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates, playing out the same string as his predecessor until the end of the season (in this case, June of next year).
The main consequence of this flap may be to provide various actors with an excuse for doing what they want to do anyway. President Obama should conclude that he needs to relax the July 2011 deadline that is weighing so heavily on McChrystal and others in the military. But he’s far more likely to conclude that the part of him (the main part, I think) that wants nothing to do with the military or with wars had it right all along. And if McChrystal is booted, President Karzai, who has a good relationship with the General, may find an additional rationale for tilting away from the U.S. and trying to cut some kind of deal.
The main significance of the flap, then, may lie in what it tells us about two vital national institutions — the executive branch of the United States and the nation’s military. In both cases, the lesson is distressing.
UPDATE: In the last paragraph, I should have said “the upper echelon of the nation’s military,” not the military as a whole.
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