Surely McChrystal knew he was skating on thin ice when he allowed members of his staff to deride the president and vice president to a reporter. The Military Code of Justice is very specific on this issue. Article 88 says: "Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct." In McChrystal's presence, his staff referred to Vice President Biden derisively, "Biden? Did you say: Bite Me?" a top adviser asks, while McChrystal jokes, "Are you asking about Vice President Biden? Who's that?"
While McChrystal's own words may have fallen short of a punishable offense, it was a dereliction of duty for him to allow his subordinates to violate the code in his presence. McChrystal may have good reason not to respect the president and vice president. But the proper way for him to deal with it would have been to resign his commission first and then speak out, not to take pot shots in the press. Had he done so, he might actually have prompted a good and open debate on whether the president's schizophrenic approach to the war in Afghanistan makes sense: increasing the number of U.S. troops at the same time that he tells the world -- and our enemies -- when he's planning on withdrawing them. Instead, McChrystal gave Obama the opportunity to look like a tough commander in chief, summoning a general to the Oval Office for disrespecting the chain of command.
The irony of the McChrystal debacle may be that we will have a much tougher commander in Afghanistan once the Senate confirms Gen. David Petraeus as his successor. Petraeus has testified before Congress that he considers the Obama administration's July 2011 Afghanistan deadline as "the date when a process begins, based on conditions, not the date when the U.S. heads for the exits." Petraeus won't make the same mistakes as McChrystal did -- and our chances of success in Afghanistan will be significantly better under his leadership.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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