Wednesday, June 23, 2010
The US General and His Boss
Obama and his General in an earlier meeting.
I'd rather write about other North American items, but this one is in the news after all, and it does have significance. General McChrystal is the top military commander overseeing both US and other NATO forces in Afghanistan. The struggle there against Al-qaeda, the Taliban, and Islamic extremism in general has very high stakes. For unknown reasons, the General allowed Rolling Stone magazine to do an interview with him and his staff over the course of several weeks, and the result will come out in the latest RS edition within days. It contains disparaging remarks about President Obama - who has the important role of US Commander in Chief over all US armed forces - the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, and other US individuals involved with both military and political negotiations in South Asia. President Obama has called McChrystal back to the White House, and McChrystal's job is on the line.
The BBC puts it this way, At the White House meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Gen McChrystal is expected to face:
* Joe Biden. Gen McChrystal had mocked the vice-president when asked a question about him. "Are you asking about Vice-President Biden? Who's that?"
* Karl Eikenberry. Gen McChrystal said he felt "betrayed" by the US ambassador to Kabul during the long 2009 White House debate on troop requests for Afghanistan
* James Jones. One of Gen McChrystal's aides says the national security adviser is a "clown stuck in 1985"
* Richard Holbrooke. Gen McChrystal says of an e-mail from the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan: "Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke... I don't even want to open it"
The article also appeared to be critical of the president himself. Referring to a key Oval Office meeting with Mr Obama a year ago, an aide of Gen McChrystal says it was "a 10-minute photo-op". "Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was... he didn't seem very engaged. The boss was pretty disappointed," the aide says.
The issue is not whether McChrystal's opinion is correct on any or all of these characterizations or not, nor is it just about Obama vs the General. It is about the clear subordination of the US military to the elected leaders of the country. The parallels of this structure go back most famously to President Harry Truman during the 1950s Korean War recalling and dismissing a huge World War II hero and top general, Douglas MacArthur. MacArthur had criticized the strategy and direction of the White House publicly, and in that case, Truman acted decisively.
So, without dwelling on it, we should hear how President Obama decides to handle this challenge in a day or two. Even that length of timing seems unnecessary.