Wednesday, June 23, 2010

In Defense of General McChrystal...

General Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has been summoned to the White House after Rolling Stone published an article in which McChrystal's aides mock various federal officials and claim that McChrystal said certain unflattering comments about Obama himself.  The two will be meeting today and it is possible the meeting will endw ith McChrystal's resignation or even his firing.

Here's the article:

Many people believe he should be relieved of command, as Douglas MacArthur was when he attempted to go around President Harry Truman in order to attack targets in China during the Korean War.  They say this is essential toward maintaining civilian control of the military.

Thing is, MacArthur's situation and McChrystal's situation are two entirely different things.

For starters, it is indisputable that MacArthur appealed to Congressional leaders after Truman vetoed his plans.  However, from what I've read, the aides are saying McChrystal said these things--McChrystal is not on-record as saying these things himself.  Although healthy whistle-blowing should be encouraged to prevent wrongdoing, we don't want to have a culture of denunciation like existed in Stalin's Russia during the purges.

(This was something I learned in my Modern Russia class in college--the purges weren't just Stalin commanding people be killed or imprisoned, but a full-blown popular hysteria, a witch hunt, against "wreckers" and spies.)

The most damning, insubordinate comments are not even alleged to have come from McChrystal.  They come from his aides.  The aides allege McChrystal said Obama looked "uncomfortable and intimidated" at a meeting with his generals, but it was someone else who went on arant against Joe Biden.

A member of my alternate-history forum whose handle is Skokie cited this regulation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice online yesterday:

Punitive Articles of the UCMJ

Article 88—Contempt toward officials

“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.”
McChrystal made some unpleasant remarks about an ambassador, but an ambassador does not fall under those rules.  Furthermore, McChrystal's alleged remarks about Obama are not necessarily "contemptuous."  In and of themselves, they aren't insulting, plus, in context, he might not have been criticizing Obama himself.
(Perhaps he was criticizing the generals for making Obama uncomfortable?)
However, the above regulations definitely nail the aides.  If McChrystal is punished, it should be for allowing his aides to get themselves into trouble (or, if the article accurately describes him as usurping the prerogatives of the State Department, for that), not for alleged insubordination on his part.

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