There has been a lot of blather on all of the electronic media about the resignation of General McChrystal. Mostly the discussion centers on whether the President should have fired him or not. Although this can be an entertaining pass time, the President did not fire him, he offered his resignation which was accepted. For most people this is a distinction without difference, but it is actually very important. By resigning, the general did not have to accept blame for any failures of his policy or of his judgment and the President can avoid an inquiry by the Senate.

Let’s look at the last activity first. Anyone who has been approved by the Senate for a position, must also be reviewed by the Senate to be removed, except by death or resignation. As a four star general, McChrystal was doubly approved by the senate, first for his stars and second for his command. Even with his party firmly in control of the Senate, the President would have to present evidence (at least some of it publically) as to why he and the Senate had wrong in appointing this man to this task. Remember, for a general, firing is a dishonorable discharge, which mean forfeiting his retirement as well as the disgrace of the action. That is why you can count on one hand the number of general officers discharged from duty (namely McClellan by Lincoln and MacArthur by Truman).

Now on to the blame issue. Many conservative spokesmen have focused blame for this entire episode on the President. As the Commander in Chief, he is ultimately responsible for the actions of his generals. That is why he has authority over them as a civilian. Regardless of whether I like the outcome of this last week, the President is not to blame for what happened. If he had not accepted the resignation, he would have been retaining damaged goods as far as the congress, the media and more importantly the troops were concerned.

The general is responsible for his own actions. I feel that the mistake he made was allowing a reporter from Rolling Stone Magazine into his inner circle for what appeared to be about six months. Over that time period, any number of minor things can add up to become embarrassing. If you have not read the article, you can find it at http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/17390/119236. It is an amazing article for many reasons; it is the longest article that Rolling Stone Magazine has ever published about anyone who was not a rock star, it adds up to very little content compared to the firestorm of commentary that it has generated, and it is self contradictory.

Let’s summarize the content.

  1. The general complains about attending an official dinner with a French minister, and un-named advisor calls the minister gay.
  2. The general is trying to prepare for questions from Vice President Biden, and un-named top advisor slurs the Vice President’s name to “Bite Me”
  3. The general met with the President early in his presidency and a “source” reported that the genera described the President as uncomfortable and intimidated by the uniform officers.
  4. Four months later at a one-on-one meeting with the President, the general suggests that the President was unprepared and unengaged. No source is sited for this quote.
  5. The general’s staff likes to poke fun at the civilians involved in the war effort, except Hillary Clinton. This is portrayed as a direct attack at the President.
  6. The general wanted more troops. When this report was leaked it was the general’s fault. Ambassador Eikenberry sent a report that was critical of the general. When that was leaked it was the general’s fault.

All of this adds up to nothing.

The article is self contradictory because it states that the general was guilty of being a mouthpiece for the Bush administration and equally guilty of not being a mouthpiece for the Obama administration

The article suggests that the general’s career should have ended long ago, specifically as a result of him being the commander during the Pat Tillman friendly fire incident and cover up as well as his part in the command structure during the prison abuse events in Iraq. The direct connection to general McChrystal is established for the Pat Tillman incident, his part in the power structure for the prison abuses is simply darkly insinuated.

The real reason that the general was pushed into offering his resignation was ultimately because of a perceived failure of his strategy. The implementation of a medal for “Restrained Bravery” for not firing upon suspects based on where they are standing caused the loss of confidence of his soldiers. His inability to show progress created doubt in the political forces that exist. And finally, he did not provide the President with what was promised in the campaign, a way out of Afghanistan. Failure of strategy, even with limited loss of life, has always been a career killer in the armed forces. The only quicker way out is to disobey direct orders – but then you get fired.

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Martin writes about writing in his weekly column Ramblings from Martin.

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