Obama Right to Fire McChrystal

Columnist had wrong take

A Pass Key Unlocks


© Steven J. Paske, 2010


Chapman wrong on McChrystal’s canning


In a recent column for the Chicago Tribune, columnist Steve Chapman attempts to convince readers that President Obama was wrong for firing General Stanley McChrystal over comments the general made in Rolling Stone magazine. It is rationalizations like that demonstrated in this column of Chapman’s that causes me deep concern for our country’s future. President Obama made the right decision, the only decision he could make.

In an otherwise stellar army career that began as a West Point graduate in 1976, McChrystal has shown signs of hitting the upper limits of his leadership abilities these past five years. Promoting someone to a position beyond their abilities is one of the worst mistakes any boss can make. Keeping them in that position is an even greater error. Admitting to and correcting mistakes is a sign of strength and courage, not weakness.

General McChrystal’s ill-advised public airing of critical comments on the Obama Administration in Rolling Stone magazine wasn’t his first lapse in judgment. McChrystal was actively involved in covering up the death of soldier and former NFL player Pat Tillman’s death by fratricide in Afghanistan in 2004. The general also made public a report on Afghanistan in September of 2009 that was an overt political attempt to force the President’s hand on the troop surge for that war.

            Chapman’s column attempts to use President Lincoln’s relationships with Generals McClellan and Hooker as an excuse for President Obama to retain McChrystal. What Chapman fails to mention is that Lincoln tolerated these generals’ behavior only for a time before ultimately choosing someone else to lead Union forces to victory in the Civil War. The face we see on a fifty-dollar bill is not either of the aforementioned generals. General MacArthur was likewise canned by President Truman for acts of insubordination as well but it is much easier to construct a flimsy argument if key examples that undermine a position are omitted.

The evidence represented by the actions of two previous presidents separated by almost a century of American life would indicate to me that a timeless truth is in the making. Like McClellan, Hooker and MacArthur before him, McChrystal overstepped his commission and needed to be called to task for it.





On paper Chapman sounds like an intelligent guy, a Harvard grad like Obama along with numerous other achievements. What I don’t see in his bio, however, is anything that makes him an authority at any level on military matters. His credentials appear devoid of any training or experience that give his voice authority when discussing the constitutional role military generals play opposite the civilian Commander in Chief.

President Obama has the Joint Chiefs of Staff to guide him in making sound decisions as they relate to military affairs. Central Command will survive without the service of General Petraeus, himself a West Pointer, as he heads to Afghanistan to replace McChrystal. The long gray line out of West Point endures and quality leaders like General Petraeus are ready and capable of filling any void. There truly is no indispensable person. Does anyone really believe that their place of employment will cease to function or will not replace them when their career is over or changes course?

The United States Military Academy at West Point states that two of the 1st Class objectives of its Professional Military Ethic Education program are 1) “Understand and demonstrate loyalty to the Constitution, the Army, the unit, superiors, subordinates, comrades, and self.” and 2) “Epitomize humility, self-awareness, respect for others and selfless service.” McChrystal grossly violated these principles not just once but in fact was beginning to exhibit a habit of violating these principles. Once the line separating right from wrong has been crossed it gets easier and easier to justify one’s actions by claiming they are legitimate. Ignoring the usurping of civilian control of the military is dangerous territory that must be defended against all incursions.

            As Chapman states in his column, General McChrystal may have been the right choice to prosecute the war in Afghanistan. But things change, Toyotas used to be an automobile of irreproachable quality and the Gulf of Mexico used to not have millions of gallons of crude oil floating in it. It is obvious that McChrystal was no longer suitable for command leadership after having once again demonstrated poor judgment.

Finally, Chapman’s column didn’t reference a single source that supported the position of leaving McChrystal in command and history is clearly not on his side on this issue. McChrystal needed to go. Lincoln and Truman got it right in their day, and so, too, did Obama.

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