Gen. Stanley McChrystal's relief of command by President Barack Obama has a recent precedent, at least one that involves the issue of respect for the military chain of command, a magazine article and the end of a fine military career.
In March 2008, following an interview with Esquire Magazine, Adm. William J. "Fox" Fallon, a leader with a stellar military record, resigned as commander of Central Command and retired from the U.S. Navy.
Esquire portrayed the former carrier pilot as the only man standing between President George W. Bush and a war with Iran. A senior American military officer must be prepared to pay the price of relief when publicly disagreeing with the commander in chief, the president of the United States.
Adm. Fallon's opinions weren't the sole difficulty. His views, in a less provocative rhetorical context -- say, a dry discussion of what-if scenarios -- might have raised eyebrows but not hackles. Election-year rhetorical and political tropes, however, jammed the article. "Neo-con" and "Bush" demon connivers threaten the world with immolation because they want war with Iran. Yet Fallon stands tall, prepared to be relieved for speaking truth.
As published, the article challenged the system of civilian control of the military, which serves America well. Fallon may or may not have gotten his say -- odds are he did, but as relayed by Esquire they dovetailed with a perceived elect-a-lefty media agenda.
In the last two years, however, even a few of those media and political elites have discovered what a farce it is to attempt to placate Tehran's Khomeinists. Obama issued apologies in Cairo and offered negotiations sans conditions. The CIA now thinks the mullahs have enough uranium for two bombs, seemingly revising a controversial assessment from fall 2007 that said Iran would not get nukes until 2015. The problem wasn't the Bush's approach -- the problem is bigoted fanatics who want weapons that kill millions.
As for McChrystal: In a press conference on June 24 of this year, Adm. Mike Mullen said, succinctly, "It was clear that ... in its totality, it challenged civilian control ... ."
Mullen's "it" refers to the disrespect for civilian authority by now-former U.S. Afghanistan commander McChrystal's staff, as portrayed in an article in the current issue of Rolling Stone magazine. President Obama, whose wife until his candidacy was never proud of her country, relieved McChrystal for this disrespect -- not so much for what McChrystal had said, but for his staff's biting criticism of other members of the administration, including Vice President Joe Biden.
The president should have relieved him. In the long run, for the good of the republic, it is always beneficial to remind the military who is the Constitution-authorized boss.
McChrystal is responsible for what his staff does -- those are the military's rules, even in an administration stuffed to its appointee brim with thumb-your-nose-at-bourgeoisie-rules campus radicals. It is not clear that McChrystal got his say in exchange for his career -- likely he did not.
He appeared to have won the intra-administration debate over strategy in Afghanistan. But in light of the article, he did seem confident about that win. Deep policy disagreements fester in the Obama administration over Afghanistan. McChrystal's big mistake was failing to express policy disagreements in a professional manner. He and his staff couched his disagreements in base, crude terms spiced with locker room panache. Rolling Stone's correspondent heard it.
President Obama needs to learn that vacillation doesn't win wars. His administration is vacillating, if not fragmenting, over Afghanistan. In the aftermath of McChrystal's relief, the appointment of Gen. David Petraeus gives the administration the opportunity to pursue a focused, coherent policy.