McChrystal and MacArthur
Speaking 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But maybe that’s outdated thinking in the age of Petraeus?