Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fade Away Time for the General as Rolling Stone Gathers no Moss

The beltway types are all abuzz over the showdown between President Obama and General McChrystal tomorrow concerning statements attributed to the General in a controversial Rolling Stone article, “The Runaway General.” First, kudos to Rolling Stone for showing up and showing that relevant media isn’t dead in this country. The Gray Lady and Washington Post are reduced to reporting about Rolling Stone’s scoop; delicious irony for Jan Wenner who started his anti-establishment rock music magazine with a $7,500 loan from family and friends and a mailing list stolen from a local radio station.

Notably, this is just the latest in a series of hard-hitting articles by Rolling Stone, from Matt Taibbi’s fine reporting lifting the rock on the financial bailout, to BP’s malfeasance. This is Pulitzer territory for Rolling Stone, and I hope they get it. At the very least, Rolling Stone deserves our unofficial Hunter S. Thompson Fear and Loathing in Reporting Award.

To the question at hand: General McChrystal and his staff have not only exercised poor judgment, but worse, behaved with demonstrable insubordination. Whether or not this is an isolated incident within the officer ranks by a “runaway general” or a generalized culture of disdain in the military for President Obama’s leadership, it should be nipped in the bud. General McChrystal’s meeting with the President should be simply a formality to give him the courtesy of offering his resignation rather than be fired outright. Period.

And to those Chicken Little Republicans who will predictably yell and scream that replacing the General would throw Af-Pak policy into disarray, cause dissension in the ranks, etc. –- the usual partisan political sniping masquerading as deep concern over military policy –- civilian authority firing generals is hardly unprecedented. The most famous of these incidents was President Truman’s dismissal of General Douglas McArthur over a military policy dispute at a critical juncture of the Korean War.

General McArthur was, without a doubt, the most accomplished field commander of his time. But he was not irreplaceable. Nor did his “prima donna” ways or failure to salute the President sit well with Harry Truman, who was never impressed with McArthur’s pomposity: “I was ready to kick him into the North China Sea, I was never so put out in my life,” said President Truman. He canned General McArthur and never looked back. Likewise, President Obama should fire General McChrystal in the interest of maintaining intact the civilian chain of command and affirming the commander in chief’s authority.

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