The American Legion Magazine | 8.1.10
By Alan W. Dowd

Gen. Stanley McChrystal is not the first general to be relieved in the middle of a war. In fact, he’s not even the first general to be relieved by President Obama. That distinction falls to Gen. David McKiernan, who was replaced by McChrystal soon after Obama entered office.

Finding that delicate balance between civilian control and battlefield flexibility, between making war policy and waging war, often leads to disagreements. The most famous of these are the stalemate between President Lincoln and Gen. George McClellan (who disobeyed the president by doing too little) and the showdown between President Truman and Gen. Douglas MacArthur (who disobeyed the president by threatening to do too much).

Other, lesser-known examples are sprinkled throughout our history: President Carter’s firing of Gen. John Singlaub after a public disagreement over forces deployed in Korea; the dismissal of Gen. Michael Dugan ahead of the 1991 Gulf War, after the general revealed details about the impending air campaign; the abbreviated tenure of Gen. Wes Clark as NATO commander, who angered his Pentagon higher-ups during the Kosovo campaign.

What makes McChrystal’s ouster so unique is that it was triggered by an article in Rolling Stone magazine. Despite its long-held antiwar, countercultural stance, the magazine was apparently granted wide access to McChrystal and his staff. The general paid dearly for this.

The magazine captured McChrystal belittling Vice President Joe Biden, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and Envoy Richard Holbrooke. McChrystal’s aides openly mock National Security Advisor James Jones and criticize U.S. senators in the article.

To say such things privately is one thing. But to say them in the presence of the press is downright reckless. Even Rolling Stone’s editor conceded he was “dumbfounded” by some of what was said by McChrystal and his staff.

As Defense Secretary Robert Gates put it, the general “made a significant mistake and exercised poor judgment.”

If the general’s first mistake was letting Rolling Stone so close, the bigger mistake was letting down his guard so much.


NPR, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128008712

Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/world/conflict-tension-over-afghanistan/generals/?sid=ST2010062202674