Thursday, June 24, 2010

Four-Star Failure

They don’t put a 4th star on your shoulder-board because you’re popular. And they don’t do it lightly. There are rules about how many general officers there can be, but, the rules also say the Commander in Chief can pretty much make up any rules he (or she) wants, concerning who is and who is not a four-star general.

Right now, there are only a dozen 4-star generals in the Army, and General Stanley McChrystal has only had the fourth star on his shoulder-board for a year. He got the 4th star in June last year when he took over command of our troops in Afghanistan.

And yesterday, when the Commander in Chief called him on the carpet for saying stupid things about members of the Obama administration and its policies, the Commander in Chief accepted General McChrystal’s resignation from his command in Afghanistan, and put General David Patraeus in charge.

It’s not the first time General McChrystal has been connected to a controversy. Several years ago, when he was Special Operations Commander in Afghanistan, he came under great criticism for the cover-up regarding the friendly-fire death of former NFL player Pat Tillman. We were told Corporal Tillman died valiantly fighting the enemy, but later the truth came out that he was actually killed by friendly fire. There was no enemy fire whatsoever. The Bush administration and General McChrystal were lying.

What McChrystal did in the Pat Tillman incident was to submit a fraudulent recommendation that Tillman get the Silver Star for his actions against the enemy, in an attempt to cover up the fact that Tillman was killed by friendly fire. Of course, then three-star General McChrystal then lied to congress about it last June when he was up for the new job and the 4th star.

In case you don’t know, the Uniform Code of Military Justice forbids our troops from making disparaging remarks about the Commander in Chief, the Congress, and political appointees. General McChrystal could have faced a court-martial for his snide comments about Vice President Biden and other top officials in the Rolling Stone Magazine article.

General McChrystal must have made the mistake of thinking the Commander in Chief would give him a pass, because he knew what he said to the reporter was clearly out-of-bounds, if not downright insubordinate. He apologized to the President and the Vice-President and several of the other civilian officials he denigrated in the article.

It takes a special person to qualify for a four-star slot in any of our armed services. General McChrystal made a big mistake, and he’s paying the price. He may still have four stars on his shoulder boards – for now – but he has no doubt now that the Commander in Chief – a civilian – is in charge.

And that’s the way our Constitution says it should be.


  1. Georges Clemenceau, the prime minister of France during World War I, is credited as having observed that war is too important a matter to be left to the generals.

    McArthur and Patton would attest that it is not easy for a military commander in a theater of war to implement policies created by civilians when those policies are not to his liking. But war is an instrument of foreign policy - the province of civilian authority.

    Gen. McChrystal knew that going in. If he was so deeply dissatisfied he could have - and it might be argued, should have - quit at the top of his game, rather than sending his career down in flames and disgrace.

    It is easy to see this affair as a simple tragedy for Gen. McChrystal, but war is a severe testing ground where personal flaws can quickly lead to failure. So it can also be seen as the natural outcome. You don't get four stars without knowing something about Article 88 of the UCMJ, and its unambiguous language about what happens when you diss your boss.

    The difference between Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Gen. David Petraeus comes down to the character of a soldier. Both men are accomplished in the business of warfare, but Gen. McChrystal, who, as our blogger reminds us, got a big pass on the Pat Tillman incident, has shown himself unfit to command a war.

  2. What I find interesting about this whole affair is the apparent change in attitudes about General Petraeus shown by President Obama and the media. Remember "General Betray-Us"? Remember then-Senator Obama calling the Petraeus-executed Iraq surge "a disastrous foreign policy mistake"? Now the President is lionized by the media for (finally) acting like a Commander-in-Chief for naming Bush's general.

    I imagine that Petraeus will have a much harder time implementing his recommendations with Obama as his CiC than he had with Bush...unless it's aggressively to keep the July 2011 draw-down date.

    The Town Crank