In the Stephen Spielberg World War II masterpiece Saving Private Ryan, Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks) speaks to one of his young soldiers about the tenets of leadership. Captain Miller tells Private Rybman (Edward Burns) that leaders “gripe up, not down”. That a Ranger officer doesn’t gripe to a private; in fact a Ranger officer doesn’t gripe IN FRONT of a private soldier.

In the next few weeks and months, much will be written of the ill-advised and damaging interview granted by Commander NATO/ISAF/USFOR-A General Stanley McChrystal to Rolling Stone magazine. I have not had time to read and digest the interview in its entirety, but I have read enough to find significant alarm in what I saw.

General McChrystal disagreed with policy from officials of the Obama Administration regarding US policy in Afghanistan. Nobody seriously considering events should be surprised or particularly distressed by this. At the level of strategic decision-making, commanders are not merely “three bags full” executors of policy, but participants in the shaping of that policy through their knowledge, expertise, viewpoint, and judgment of National Military Strategy as an element of National Security Strategy.

Much of what General McChrystal takes issue with regarding Administration policy in theater may be valid observations and empirically correct, and it may not be. This can be debated separately, and certainly will be in hindsight. If the two viewpoints, the General’s, and that of the White House, were so fundamentally different as to be truly irreconcilable, then General McChrystal would have the choice that so many junior to him face, which is to salute smartly and carry out orders he knows to be wrong, or to leave the United States Army.

General McChrystal chose to do neither. He chose to publicly criticize those elected and appointed officials whose orders he swore to obey. What is worse, he did so in a way that clearly personally belittles those officials. And his attitude toward those officials, including the Vice President of the United States, was apparently no secret.

The aside comments of the General and his staff regarding Vice President Joe Biden are disrespectful in the extreme. It is bad enough that General McChrystal personally commented in such a manner, but his lack of respect and decorum was shared openly by his staff. The same situation existed regarding comments about Ambassadors Karl Eikenberry and Richard Holbrook, and retired Marine General James Jones, the National Security Advisor. Each was publicly disparaged by General McChrystal and his staff. One can only wonder what was said among that staff out of earshot of the press.

I am sure to get much disagreement on this next point, but in my mind General McChrystal’s most serious offense was revealing his “disappointment” with his President, “even though he had voted for him”. If a man with thirty-four years of commissioned service doesn’t understand why such a statement is so egregiously inappropriate, there is little in my limited vocabulary to enlighten.

I don’t agree with the assertions of some that Military Officers, especially senior ones, should refrain from voting. I know Admiral Burke and General Marshall did not vote, as they believed doing so would politicize them. I believe officers, ALL officers, should vote. It is their civic duty, and a sacred right preserved for them by the sacrifice of others. However, that vote is done in secret for a reason. And while that officer is in uniform or executing official duties, that vote should have no bearing whatever on how they execute those duties and responsibilities. Their statements, all of them, while wearing a uniform, are a matter of public record, and a reflection of both their personal leadership and the honor and tradition of the service to which they belong.

It is with no small concern that I have watched that assertion be set aside of late, as uniformed senior leadership has felt free to expound on personal beliefs in political matters.

Marine General Peter Pace, serving as CJCS, in March of 2007 expressed his personal views on the morality of homosexuality, for which he received much justified criticism. Admiral Mike Mullen, current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also expressed, unsolicited, his personal views on homosexuals serving openly in the Armed Forces before official questioning began while testifying before Congress. To be clear, both men had an absolute right to their respective personal views, but it was exceedingly imprudent for either to have declared those views publicly in an official capacity. Such transgressions regarding expressing personal views encourage LTG Mixon’s actions in Hawaii, and the conduct of the Commander of USFOR-A.

General McChrystal has a right to his personal political views. They are his, and his alone. When they disagree with the orders and policy he is instructed to carry out, his choices are clear. Instead, he chose to let those personal views, and disdain for those elected and appointed officials who disagreed with him, shape the tenor of his discourse with his seniors, and most inexcusably, his juniors. He has failed at the very basics of leadership that Captain Miller explains so frankly to his young soldier.

So, the Commander in Chief has little choice but to accept General McChrystal’s resignation, should that late story be confirmed. If the President were not to do so, he risks the skewing of the civilian-military relationship that is a cornerstone of our personal and collective liberties, much as Truman would have done in failing to discipline General MacArthur in Korea six decades ago. The situation with General McChrystal leaves President Obama with another, very dicey problem. Who will be putting hands in the air to command in a theater where the strategy and policy have been so publicly discredited by a senior General Officer? And whomever is chosen, what will be the effect of a new commander dropping onto the scene just before a key offensive that may determine the long-term success of the US effort in Afghanistan?




Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Uncategorized


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  • http://cdrsalamander.blogspot.com CDR Salamander

    Yep.

  • Redeye80

    Fire him!. Get it over with. Put the deputy in charge.

    Withdrawal, get it over with. We are just leaving a year early. The withdrawal is not conditionally based, so let’s leave and be done with it.

  • CDR G (ret)

    I agree with your Saving Private Ryan example: What in God’s name kind of relationship does this guy have with his staff? Much too chummy, apparently. Not enough command distance, in my experience. And, Rolling Stone!–who told the staff goofs (let alone the boss) that talking with RS was a good plan? Someone failed big-time. That and the vote for Obama convince me that we are seeing a serious judgment failure in progress.

    A friend did offer an interesting supposition. She suggested that this might be a public career kamikaze mission. She speculated that McChrystal might be so fed up with the White House that he deliberately chose a messy exit to put the administration in the worst possible situation. The beauty of her thought is that it leaves no good choice–fire him and you lose the “expert.” Keep him and you look completely whipped.

    I’m waiting to see if the ax really falls. If it doesn’t, McC wins–something.

  • JR

    I have read the article, and it seems to me that there’s a lot of hearsay being taken as gospel. Gen. McChrystal did the only honorable thing he could in accepting responsibility and apologizing for the situation. The reporter in question reportedly had several weeks of exposure to the General, and in his discretion, this is the material he decided to present in such a long period of time.

    As to Joe Biden’s plan, I think it’s reasonable to leave war fighting to warriors, and politics to politicians. The two don’t mix well from a historical point of view.

  • Rick Wilmes

    My immediate thoughts upon reading URR’s blog post was that maybe Michael Yon is right.

    Here is something to think about.

    “Long before Rolling Stone published the story, war correspondent Michael Yon had also levied criticism at McChrystal. Yon came under fire from some milbloggers for his dispatches, and at least one military blog came close to character assassination because of what Yon wrote about McChrystal. 

    Yon has consistently turned out major stories about the war that others missed, such as the Canadian Brigadier General who not only fired his weapon negligently but also was accused of having an affair with a female staffer. The military and media lagged in that coverage.”

    http://www.theusreport.com/the-us-report/2010/6/22/michael-yons-criticism-of-mcchrystal-deemed-prophetic.html

  • Michael Antoniewicz II

    JR, the parts that aren’t hearsay (or I should say, the distilled written report from a reporter that spent a month with Gen. McChrystal, his Command Staff, and ‘Team America’) are bad enough.

    Go read UCMJ Article 88. I did and my head and heart still hurts. There are right ways to buck issues with those above you but there is an infinite number of wrong ways to do it. This, apparently, falls squarely within those that are outlined in Article 88.

    But … I’ve got a bad feeling that this is going to become *the* textbook example for the Peter Principle. :(

  • Jay

    While I don’t concur with the view that the military should vote – I believe GEN Marshall and others lived a necessary lesson in civic duty and sacrifice by *not* voting — and you are beating an incorrect drum wrt LGEN Mixon & CJCS (the cases are different) I am still scratching my head over this…

    As young Officers, with limited exposure to GO/FOs,
    — it seemed that they were sage & brilliant. Around mid-career, after more exposure, we realized that that wasn’t always the case…

    This leaves me simply gobsmacked. I have yet to read the piece, but will today. Lots of good commentary at informationdissemination.net wrt same.

    I did think initially that this would blow over, after some woodshed time. However, if he was already called onto the carpet over his NATO remarks, and didn’t learn anthing then, this becomes much more than a serious gaffe. Perhaps reading the piece will confirm that, or change my mind.

    If it becomes both necessary & proper that Gen McChrystal’s resignation offer (I would think he offered it) is accepted, so be it.

  • JR

    Michael Antoniewicz,

    I don’t disagree that he falls squarely within the constraints of UCMJ 88, and I imagine that this will be a career limiting, if not ending, move on his part.

    From my perspective, it looks like he just got railroaded by a libtard reporter, who wrote his article with an obvious agenda. It seems that he heavily cherry picked the statements he chose to publish, with the intent of casting McChrystal and his team in a negative light.

    I find it the height of irony that his team is in hot water over an offhanded remark about Biden, who recently dropped the “f” word on live public television, and has largely been kept out of the public light because of his own lack of discretion in shooting his mouth off in public.

    I would agree that there are right ways to take issues up the chain of command, but this administration in particular seems content to be far too confident in their own abilities, which in practice I find sorely lacking.

    Perhaps McChrystal knew what was going to result from this, and decided to play the game by this liberal administrations twisted rule book. Only time will tell.

    – Jesse

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “and you are beating an incorrect drum wrt LGEN Mixon & CJCS (the cases are different)”

    I don’t think so Jay. Mullen’s actions are like putting a golf ball in a bathtub, thinking you can leave it short of the drain.

  • Jay

    Oh URR…

    JR — “From my perspective, it looks like he just got railroaded by a libtard reporter” — yeah, we expect a little better than “libtard reporter” at USNI, save that for townhall.com.

    I just read the article. At the very least — GEN McC and his staff were sloppy in their remarks. I am still gobsmacked by same — not sure whether his staff was simply good at some things, and bad at others (one of them being — protecting the boss…). I am not cool with a staff feeling so free as to run their mouths as well (geez, did he ever tamp them down a bit, as he should well have — *even* if he agreed with them?).

    We’ll see if this rises to a fireable/retireable level. I suspect that it might.

    I do find it odd, that in other blogs, folks are thinking that this was a ploy by GEN McC — as he didn’t get as many troops as he wanted for the COIN surge — so this is a way of elevating that, forcing the issue, and, if he is fired — he gets to not be blamed for any bad outcome.

    I find this an anathema for everything that GEN McC has worked for in his career, I simply find that too far fetched to believe.

    Stand by for news…

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “We’ll see if this rises to a fireable/retireable level. I suspect that it might.”

    For the first time in living memory, I think we are in agreement. I think it has to be, the Prez has few palatable options. Phib over at his place called it “CINC painted into a corner”, and that about fits.

  • Derrick

    I can totally understand where many may disagree with the General’s remarks, but the US does have this thing called freedom of speech…

    I am not fully comfortable with anyone losing their job because they have stated an opinion publicly that disagrees with a superior’s…

    Has the General ordered his subordinates to do something opposite to what the Obama administration ordered?

  • Paul

    Derrick–

    It’s not that simple– a soldier takes an oath to defend the Constitution and obey civilian leadership– that’s why the President is Commander in Chief. A private is not allowed to question his LT’s orders– sometimes the LT has to put soldiers in harms way to save the lives of others and having a debate over that isn’t the way to run a platoon– people die.

    Unlike the civilian world, soldiers look to their leaders to be models of behavior– civilians are too concerned with “management” and “administration” rather than leading. What the general did as that role model was wrong, and under the UCMJ, illegal. If commanders question the orders of the civilian authority then that bedrock of American Democracy is gone. Then you will have generals making foreign policy decisions unilaterally and that can result in disaster.

    Patton lost his job in 1945 by wanting to rearm the Germans and start a war with the USSR– something that was a direct challenge to Truman’s policy and pubic sentiment back home for good reason. MacArthur disobeyed a direct order to not communicate with Congress, who is NOT in the chain of command and publicly advocated for an invasion of China and sowing a belt of atomic bombs on the Yalu River. Hardly the policy we wanted, right?

    Generals do have an option to voice their opinions– in private with the President and in public by resigning to end the conflict of interest. What this general tried to do was to have his cake and eat it too– you can’t be an effective leader by questioning policy and then trying to execute that same.

  • http://www.coatneyhistory.com Lou Coatney

    Although Saving Private Ryan is no masterpiece, I am in basic agreement with you that Obama did the right thing resigning McChrystal, URR … just as Truman did, firing MacArthur.

  • J R

    Folks,

    As a vet, I was interested in the UCMJ. It looks to me like the general violated paragraph 88, at least, and maybe others as well.

    He is lucky to not be in custody. Read the regs, and be quiet.

    JR

  • Michael Antoniewicz II

    And remember, civilians have Freedom of Speech and all the other Constitutional guarantees and rights because the people who join the military exchange their’s for the UCMJ when they sign on the dotted line.

  • http://na Mel Leutwyler

    Good soldiers don’t grip to anyone but each other and then very quietly.

  • Barry

    CDR G (ret) Says:
    “I agree with your Saving Private Ryan example: What in God’s name kind of relationship does this guy have with his staff? Much too chummy, apparently. Not enough command distance, in my experience. And, Rolling Stone!–who told the staff goofs (let alone the boss) that talking with RS was a good plan? Someone failed big-time. That and the vote for Obama convince me that we are seeing a serious judgment failure in progress. ”

    It still amazes me that people who supported 8 years of Bush/GOP trashing of the country have the unmitigated gall to open their mouths about Obama.

    “A friend did offer an interesting supposition. She suggested that this might be a public career kamikaze mission. She speculated that McChrystal might be so fed up with the White House that he deliberately chose a messy exit to put the administration in the worst possible situation. The beauty of her thought is that it leaves no good choice–fire him and you lose the “expert.” Keep him and you look completely whipped.”

    The variation I head was that McChrystal realized that Afghanistan is not winnable, for any sort of resources that the US is going to put in there – in theory, the US could put the odd million troops in Afghanistan for a decade, but not in any real world.

    Under this theory he decided to get fired (either explicitly, or by being asked to ‘retire’, with the word being spread that it was an involuntary retirement). Then he could go on ‘wingnut welfare’, as a ‘martyr’ of Obama. As we’ve seen from the guy I’m replying to, there are millions of Americans who’d eat this sh*t up.

  • Robert Peterson

    You’re all missing the point! General McCrystal is a career military general who came-up through the Ranger and Black-Ops schools of training; this so-called disclosure to Rolling Stone Magazine was no mistake, this man is too street smart to make a mistake like that, he knew hew wasn’t talking with Stars & Stripes!
    McCrystal selected Rolling Stone specifically to get the word out to his peers, “The Administration is NOT working in the best interests of the Country”! General McCrystal wanted this to be “Crystal Clear” to his fellow officers that he was breaking ranks and willing to fall on the live grenade in order to get this message out. You want to talk about protecting the Constitution? Well what do you think a dedicated career military officer would consider doing first when faced with an Administration dead set on destroying that very document?
    In times like these when our country needs most is a man like General Washington who can command the respect of our military rank and file officers for the difficult job that lies ahead. That’s why General McCrystal apologized for his comments, not to the Obama Administration, but to his military peers who felt betrayed by his decision to break ranks and tell the world what was on his mind regarding this so called Commander and Chief!

    General McCrystal may now be in the ranks of retired military, but I hardly see him becoming a couch potato, watching the evening news. Rather, I believe the American people are going to need leaders like General McCrystal when the time comes to take our country back from the Bastards that are now in power and seeking its destruction! I for one will be honored to serve to the best of my ability with General McCrystal when the time comes, to free our nation from the cancer that has taken over our government.

  • http://www.coatneyhistory.com Lou Coatney

    “I for one will be honored to serve to the best of my ability with General McCrystal when the time comes, to free our nation from the cancer that has taken over our government.”

    What kind of service did you have in mind? … and please don’t be too timid to say.

  • Robert Peterson

    Maybe now that he’s a private citizen and free to speak his mind without impunity he’ll continue to do so and run for office somewhere, I don’t know.

    However, it is possible those of us who love the Constitution and honor the beliefs of our founders may one day be called upon to defend it against foretold enemies, foreign and domestic; such action is not impossible or excluded from consideration as provided by the second amendment.

    By the way, I’ve never believed the findings of the Warren Commission to be complete or comprehensive to this day.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “By the way, I’ve never believed the findings of the Warren Commission to be complete or comprehensive to this day.”

    Mister Peterson, that is NOT a “by the way” comment!

    Mark Lane’s “Rush to Judgment” remains a superb work.

  • Rich

    All should probably have studied the article before opining on its substance and McChrystal himself.

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