Tuesday, June 22, 2010

bad-mouthing the boss

General Stanley McChrystal has been summoned to Washington to apologize in person for remarks he and his staff made to a reporter for Rolling Stone that are highly critical of several senior U.S. officials. It is shocking to see that the famously self-disciplined McChrystal has such an ill-disciplined staff.

I know that bureaucratic sub-units often build their own esprit de corps by complaining about their superiors -- and often the criticisms are quite valid. But to do so in wartime, in front of a reporter, risks undermining the military mission and perhaps costing lives. This is a serious offense.

As I read the quotes attributed to McChrystal, they seem more like tactical complaints and routine frustrations rather than fundamental opposition. But his staff felt free to make comments that cross the line into territory forbidden by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. One of the dysfunctions of military culture, especially in elite units like the special forces from which McChrystal and most of his staff come, is a tendency to disparage the will, the skill, and the patriotism of anyone outside their tight circle. That appears to be the case here.

President Obama would be fully justified in removing McChrystal from his post in order to assert proper civilian control over an unruly military contingent. There are, however, many other factors to consider, including the impact of such action on the war in Afghanistan. It's a shame we have this distraction from that most difficult campaign.

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