Firing General McChrystal was a big mistake. Ultimately, the President must assemble the best possible team to win this very difficult war, and General McChrystal should have been a part of that team.
This team must engage in serious debate and discussion, and they are allowed to disagree with one another.
President Obama must avoid a situation similar to the Vietnam War when President Johnson’s advisers told him the United States was making serious progress in the war, when the exact opposite was true. Sociologists call this Group Think when a group of people think the same way and no one asks the difficult questions. They never advise their leader of the difficult issues at hand, and, at their leader’s command, mindlessly row their ship over the cliff.
General McChrystal demonstrated poor judgment in allowing negative comments to get into the press, however, he is not guilty of insubordination. His bad judgment deserves a public rebuke, but in the absence of insubordination, his removal was not justified.
President Obama gave in to the political pressure of the moment as liberals and conservatives urged the President to fire General McChrystal and exert civilian control of the military. The President demonstrated poor judgment as civilian control of the military was never the issue. No one in the military refused to obey orders, or questioned the patriotism, of the political leadership. They are very frustrated as they are not sure the United States is pursuing the best possible strategy and tactics to win the war, and they think they are being ignored. In a war as complicated as this one, these policy discussions, disagreements, and debates are inevitable. The only mistake is that the discussion was allowed to get in the hands of the press.
The issues got into press as General McChrystal made a major error. He invited an antiwar correspondent from the antiwar Rolling Stone Magazine into his inner circles. The disaster that followed was inevitable. Making critical comments to the press about your civilian leadership is terrible public relations and demonstrates bad political judgment. However, these issues do not have much to do with military leadership, General McChrystal is still one of our finest Generals and we still need him to win the war in Afghanistan.
To be sure the mistake was a serious one, and it calls for public criticism from the President, an apology from General McChrystal, and a commitment to do better in the future. Removing the General was an over reaction from the President.
The United States is on the eve of a another major military offensive in Afghanistan. General McChrystal could have made a major contribution to this offensive, and could have made a major contribution to bringing the war to a favorable conclusion. Firing General McChrystal makes it less likely that the United States will be successful in Afghanistan.
Source: The Wall Street Journal Review and Outlook, The McChrystal Mess. The Wall Street Journal, June 23, 2010.