In making and tolerating disparaging comments about his civilian superiors in front of a reporter, Gen. Stanley McChrystal failed a test of leadership, judgment and respect for his role in a democratic government. But most obviously, he failed an IQ test.
Popping off about people in the Obama administration in the presence of a journalist can be characterized by many adjectives. "Smart" is not one of them.
By any reasonable standard, President Obama had ample cause to sack him. But if he thought McChrystal was the right person to lead the U.S. effort in Afghanistan before the latest issue of Rolling Stone came out, he should have stuck with that judgment.
The strategy Obama has embraced, after all, is the one devised by McChrystal. As the president noted in firing him, they were in complete accord on how to prosecute the war.
Gen. David Petraeus, who conceived and oversaw the surge in Iraq, is obviously competent to replace him. But putting him in command in Afghanistan deprives the president of his services as head of Central Command, a more important job.
So he and members of his staff think the people they have to work with and answer to are morons? Guess what: Millions of Americans feel the same way about their bosses and co-workers. (Some soldiers feel the same way about McChrystal.) As a rule, that doesn't keep them from doing their jobs.
I suspect Rahm Emanuel has said worse about Obama when he gets home from a hard day at work. But unless McChrystal or Emanuel is impossibly at odds with the president on his basic policies, such expressions of frustration don't keep them from serving him well.
The bigger problem is that the general let his discontent become public. It is a grave offense in a constitutional republic for generals to undermine their commander-in-chief. Even many conservative critics of Obama agree that McChrystal committed a "firing offense."
But just because he deserved dismissal doesn't mean the president should have given it to him. The embarrassment McChrystal brought on himself was enough to remind everyone that generals serve presidents, not the other way around.
It turns out Obama is not as much like Lincoln as he aspires to be. The 16th president, who had his own war to run, had many opportunities to take umbrage at disrespectful conduct by his highest Army officers. And he repeatedly put the nation's needs first.