It's not an ordinary thing to fire a general in wartime — it hasn't happened since Truman sacked Douglas MacArthur in 1952.
But if certain pundits get their way, next on the chopping block could be Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, after a profile in Rolling Stone where he and his aides made disparaging comments about administration officials.
In addition to labelling his first meeting with the president "disappointing," McChrystal and his aides brainstormed for ways to dismiss questions about Vice President Joe Biden from the French military academy ("Biden? Did you say Bite Me?"), referred to National Security Advisor Jim Jones as a "clown" that's "stuck in 1985" and compared senior envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke to "a wounded animal."
Now McChyrstal has been summoned to Washington to answer for his statements.
As word crimes go, they're far from treason. But if the role of top military brass includes making nice with the other departments, being diplomatic with allies and staying on message with the civilian administration, McChrystal is an abject failure.
In his year as the top man in Afghanistan, he's been reprimanded by the President once already for making a speech in London criticizing Biden's preference for alternative military strategies. And when his assessment report declaring he needed 40,000 more troops at the risk of mission failure was leaked to the press, it was widely seen as the Pentagon forcing the President's hand to get its way. (A month later Obama announced he would send an additional 30,000 troops to the region.)
There's a reason that civilian and military officials place so much emphasis on fealty to elected leaders. Every government that was chosen by the people and overthrown in a coup failed because the people with guns wanted them to fail. That the military takes commands from the President and does not publicly challenge him is not just a staid formality, it's a vital policy that enables our government to function.
And when it comes to military actions over words, McChrystal's rule over Afghanistan forces does not overly recommend him. His efforts in Marja — which McChrystal himself refers to as a "bleeding ulcer" — are unimpressive and the vaunted summer push into Kandahar has been delayed until the fall and will follow a slower, more methodical approach. In other words, it looks a lot like Biden's strategy that McChrystal once maligned.
For a guy as smart as McChrystal has been throughout his career, this interview was pretty stupid. One wonders if it was merely the most bombastic way for him to say "I quit."
Update: Time Magazine's Joel Klein is reporting that McChrystal has submitted his resignation.