23 June 2010

McChrystal's Facets

A quick note before summer school.

Much of the commentary about McChrystal has stressed that the general didn't actually express any policy disagreements with President Obama or his administration, and that most of the damning comments came not from McChrystal but from his aides. Fred Kaplan expresses what is probably the most sophisticated version of this view and holds that McChrystal's conduct doesn't rise to the level of insubordination. Instead, Kaplan writes, it simply shows that McChrystal has encouraged a wild level of disdain for civilian control.

But the definition of insubordination needn't be some sort of MacArthur-esque point-blank refusal to follow orders. Any student of bureaucratic politics understands that an agent may substantively disobey the principal even while obeying every whittle and jot of his formal orders. And so with McChrystal: what is troubling about the article is precisely the atmosphere of his operation. McChrystal may be smart enough to never give any reporter a soundbite about how stupid he thinks the White House is, but on the other hand he does express nothing less than contempt for Ambassador Eikenberry and Richard Holbrooke, the two civilians (although Eikenberry is a former general) nearest to him. And, as I said yesterday, the Alter book shows that Obama had good grounds to doubt McChrystal's loyalty or deference well before Rolling Stone decided to commission a profile of the general. (Interesting that Rolling Stone--fresh off of its profile of Obama and BP and not too long after the "vampire squid" Goldman Sachs article--has come to play such a role in the Zeitgeist.)

In other words, the atmosphere that McChrystal has perpetrated is, in itself, insubordinate, even if no specific act of insubordination has been removed. McChrystal and others of his ilk are political generals in much the same way that Union generals were during the Civil War, owing their prominence and their influence to their savviness and their media-friendliness (although they are also much better trained than the Lew Wallaces of the world). Accordingly, "insubordination" has a different meaning for someone with stars on their shoulders instead of stripes on their sleeves. By refusing to accept that Obama is president and that he is therefore entitled to the respect and deference due any commander in chief, McChrysal has shown that he refuses to be a willing subordinate--and that, not some mystical lack of "trust" or (in the other fashionable phrase) "poor judgment", requires his removal.

Bookmark and Share

No comments:

Post a Comment