The flap about Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s “resignation” was nobody’s finest hour. But there are some painful lessons in all this that go beyond any of the individuals involved — the general, the president, or any of the officials at the Pentagon or the State Department.
What is far more important than all these individuals put together are the lives of the tens of thousands of Americans fighting in Afghanistan. What is even more important is the national security of this country.
It is certainly not politic for a general or his staff to express contempt for civilian authorities publicly. But what is far more important — from the standpoint of national security — is whether what those authorities have done deserves contempt.
My hope is that General McChrystal will write a book about his experiences in Afghanistan — and in Washington. The public needs to know what is really going on, and they are not likely to get that information from politicians.
This is, after all, an administration that waited for months last year before acting on General McChrystal’s urgent request for 40,000 more troops, which he warned would be necessary to prevent the failure of the mission in Afghanistan. He got 30,000 eventually — and a public statement by President Obama about when he wants to start withdrawing American troops from that country.
In no previous period of history has an American president announced a timetable for pulling out troops. They may have had a timetable in mind, but none of these presidents was irresponsible enough to tell the world — including our enemies — when our troops would be leaving.
Such information encourages our enemies, who know that they need only wait us out before they can take over, whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere. At the same time, it undermines our allies, who know that relying on the United States is dangerous in the long run, and that they had better make the best deal they can get with our enemies.
But the worst aspect of the national-security policy of this administration is its clear intention to do nothing that has any realistic chance of stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons. This may be the most grossly irresponsible policy in all of history, because it can leave this generation — and future generations — of Americans at the mercy of terrorists who have no mercy and who cannot be deterred, as the Soviet Union was deterred.
All the current political theater about “international sanctions” is unlikely to make the slightest difference to Iran. Nor is the administration itself likely to expect it to. What then is its purpose? To fool the American people into thinking that they are doing something serious when all that they are doing is putting on a charade by lining up countries to agree to actions that they all know will not have any real effect.
There is another aspect to General McChrystal’s “resignation.”
Everyone seems to agree that Stanley McChrystal has been a soldier’s soldier — someone who knows what to do on a battlefield and is not afraid to put himself in danger to do it. Do we need more generals like this or do we need political generals who know how to cultivate Washington politicians, in order to advance their own careers?
Some people see a parallel between McChrystal’s “resignation” and Pres. Harry Truman’s firing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. No two situations are ever exactly the same, but some of the parallels are striking. MacArthur was proud not only of his military victories but also of the fact that he won those victories with lower casualty rates among his troops than other generals had. But General MacArthur, too, was not always discreet in what he said — and also had reasons to have contempt for politicians, going all the way back to FDR, who cut the army’s budget in the 1930s, while Nazi Germany and imperial Japan were building up huge military machines that would kill many an American before it was all over.
If we are creating an environment where only political generals can survive, what will that mean for America’s ability to win military victories without massive casualty rates? Or to win military victories at all?