by Walter Brasch
For a few days last week, the harpies of the extreme right assaulted the president of the United States for first considering, and then firing Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of allied forces in Afghanistan.
In a 10-day interview with Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone, McChrystal and his senior aides poked fun or criticized almost every civilian in the highest levels of the chain of command, including the President, Vice-President, and National Security Advisor James L. Jones, former Marine Corps commandant who, an aide told the magazine, was a "clown." Another aide told Hastings that Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) "turn up, have a meeting with [Afghan President Hamid] Karzai, criticize him at the airport press conference, then get back for the Sunday talk shows. Frankly, it's not very helpful."
Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and almost the entire tea bag movement supported McChrystal. They screeched that it was not McChrystal who should be fired but Obama for his war strategy. That would be the same strategy that was designed and executed by--Gen. McChrystal.
This wasn't the first time McChrystal was out of line. Previously, he tried to box in Obama. His tactic was not to be a part of a vigorous discussion with other military leaders and the Commander-in-Chief about the strategy in Afghanistan. He decided to just go to the media and "tell all," essentially begging the President to significantly increase troop presence in Afghanistan and widen the war, which has now lasted more than eight years. This is also the same general who we now know was one of the major players in covering up the cause of the death of former NFL millionaire star Pat Tillman who became an Army Ranger, and then was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. This is also the general who was in command of a task force that had 34 of its members disciplined for prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.
McChrystal wasn't about to get any sympathy from his superiors. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who had served George W. Bush prior to being asked to stay by President Obama, said that McChrystal "made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment." Adm. Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also supported the firing. But, it was the words of three leading senators who should have provided the beacon to the unenlightened of the reactionary right. In a joint statement, the senators said they had "the highest respect for General McChrystal and honor his brave service and sacrifice to our nation," but that his comments were "inappropriate and inconsistent with the traditional relationship between Commander-in-Chief and the military." The three senators, all known hawks, were Joe Lieberman, an Independent; and Republicans John McCain, a former Navy captain; and Lindsey Graham, a colonel in the Air Force Reserve.
For his part, Gen. McChrystal knew he was out of line. "I extend my sincerest apology for this profile. It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened," McChrystal said, and noted that he believed that in his 34-year military career, he "lived by the principles of personal honor and professional integrity [and what] is reflected in this article falls far short of that standard."
Of course, the attacking force on the right flank, who were silent when the BushCheney administration choked the First Amendment rights of civilians, put both their brain cells together and claimed Obama was stifling free speech. Here's some constitutional law that will enlighten even the dimmest bulb. Freedom of speech, by law, does not extend to the military. That applies to privates as well as generals. The extreme right, which has proven embarrassing to true conservatives and the Republican party itself, apparently overlooked the fact that George W. Bush, while President, fired or marginalized senior officers for disagreeing with civilian policy. Gen. Peter Pace, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not get a usual second term after he not only challenged the BushCheney Administration on its stand about torture and on Administration claims, later proven to be false, that Iran was supplying munitions to Iraqi insurgents. Sealing his fate, however, was his public belief that gays were immoral. Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army's Chief of Staff, had bluntly told the Senate Armed Forces committee in a mandated appearance that there were significant problems with the BushCheneyRumsfeld plan for the forthcoming invasion of Iraq. He retired without the customary recognition by civilian leadership. Adm. William Fallon, commander of the U.S. Central Command, was terminated for challenging the BushCheney strategy that might have led to war with Iran. The reality that Shinseki and Fallon were eventually proven to be right was of little consequence. The President, in his role as Commander-in-Chief, has authority to discipline his senior officers for disagreeing with him, even privately.
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