McChrystal and MacArthur

McChrystal IISSSpeaking at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, Stanley McChrystal, the general in charge of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, said the Obama administration needs to make up its mind on quickly on a strategy — and rejected the idea of lowering the bar.

In my writeup for New Atlanticist, “McChrystal: Biden Afghanistan Plan ‘Short-Sighted,” I observe that,

This isn’t exactly Douglas MacArthur territory.  Obama has yet to outline a competing strategic vision and McChrystal is essentially just making a full-throated defense of the doctrine he was sent to carry out.  But it does put his commander-in-chief in a rather awkward position.

His approach is at stark contrast to that of Kip Ward, commander of United States Africa Command, who repeatedly deflected questions about strategic priorities in his Atlantic Council appearance earlier in the week.  Each time such a query was posed, he simply noted that he takes his orders from the president and the secretary of defense.

Somewhere in between these tacks strikes me as the proper mode for four-star commanders. They should work within the commander’s intent — which in McChrystal’s case means that of CENTCOM chief David Petraeus as well as the president and SECDEF  — but also use their professionaljudgment in how best to carry out their mission.  When it’s obvious that the president and his senior advisors are seriously considering a major policy change, however, it’s probably best for the generals to provide their inputs in private to avoid giving the appearance of undermining civilian control of policy.

But maybe that’s outdated thinking in the age of Petraeus?

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, US Politics, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    aid the Obama administration needs to make up its mind on quickly on a strategy

    Typical McCrystal. This guy likes to act in haste. Remember he is the one who immediately orchestrated the cover up of the circumstances surrounding Pat Tillman’s death.

  2. No, James, it is worse that MacArthur. MacArthur was fired for writing a letter to a Congressman, in response to a request for his views. In reality, MacArthur could make a legitimate claim that he was responding to a request from a legitimate oversight authority.

    This was a public speech! What is McChystal doing giving speeches anyway? And his smack-down of Biden’s plan was in response to an open question!

  3. James Joyner says:

    No, James, it is worse that MacArthur. MacArthur was fired for writing a letter to a Congressman, in response to a request for his views. In reality, MacArthur could make a legitimate claim that he was responding to a request from a legitimate oversight authority.

    MacArthur committed a series of acts in open defiance of Truman’s stated objectives in the war, not just his “no substitute for victory” testimony.

    This was a public speech! What is McChystal doing giving speeches anyway? And his smack-down of Biden’s plan was in response to an open question!

    Commanders give public speeches all the time. We have 4-stars at the Atlantic Council with some frequency.

  4. It wasn’t testimony. It was a letter. He didn’t even set foot in Washington until after his recall. Yes, it was the end of a series of disrespectful acts, so that is a significant difference.

    Yes, they give speeches all the time, but rarely in the middle of an on-going policy debate. And what’s more… there is a difference between any “4-star” and a theater commander in a particularly hot area. He should be in his AOR, not globetrotting and undermining civil-military relations.

  5. James Joyner says:

    Yes, they give speeches all the time, but rarely in the middle of an on-going policy debate. And what’s more… there is a difference between any “4-star” and a theater commander in a particularly hot area. He should be in his AOR, not globetrotting and undermining civil-military relations.

    We had McKiernan, McChrystal’s predecessor, in last December. Explaining policy and strategy is part of the job description, I think. Presumably, McChrystal was in London for some other reason and also agreed to speak at IISS.

    Regardless, I agree on the last point. Clearly, he sees the debate going in a different direction and is seeking to poison the well. That’s outside his lane.

  6. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Truman gave China to the Communists, and his unwillingness to fight on against the communists has allowed the people of North Korea to suffer greviously. Had MacArthur been given the war fighting authority he needed to win, as Lincoln gave to Grant, millions of people would not have suffered and died under a political system our current administration believes could work if only the right people instituted it. Consider for a minute. Had MacArthur been allowed to do the job he was hired to do, had Truman not abandoned the Free Chinese and Mao had been defeated, the Viet Nam war would never have happened. Pol Pot would not have murdered millions. We used to have a saying. The only good communist is a dead communist. True then, true now.

  7. Any chance he’s doing this with the tacit approval of his immediate superior?

  8. tom p says:

    But maybe that’s outdated thinking in the age of Petraeus?

    Clearly this is beyond my pay grade, but maybe, just maybe, he should shut the “F” up?

  9. Mithras says:

    Of course Petraeus and McChrystal are trying to herd Obama into doing what they want by making other options politically untenable. (After all, Obama has said repeatedly he would always listen to his generals, and so by doing this McChrystal is handing the GOP a stick to beat Obama with if he declines McChrystal’s advice.) And of course it’s entirely inappropriate and unprofessional, and smacks of a banana republic. But that’s the new normal for the officer corps when a Democrat is President.

  10. Mithras says:

    Consider for a minute. Had MacArthur been allowed to do the job he was hired to do, had Truman not abandoned the Free Chinese and Mao had been defeated, the Viet Nam war would never have happened. Pol Pot would not have murdered millions.

    Attack China. Defeat Mao. Easy! Like Vietnam. This kind of insanity is why some people should never, ever be in positions of authority to make military decisions.

  11. Davebo says:

    Any chance he’s doing this with the tacit approval of his immediate superior?

    It wouldn’t be the first time.

    Does the name Pat Tillman ring a bell?