Monday, March 1, 2021
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Don’t Cry For Obama, Stan McChrystal

General McChrystal violated a single most honored standard of behavior among general/flag officers: dignified collegiality. One purpose of CAPSTONE is to round off edges left from any stunted professional military growth. A fourth generation military officer failed the course's standard. This isn't the first time; just a more public one.

A particular demeanor is expected among general officers that extends beyond the military to civilian counterparts in government and industry, not just to the President and up "the chain of command." Upon selection to general or flag grade, every single officer is sent to the CAPSTONE "leadership course." CAPSTONE, quaintly known as the generals' knife and fork course, helps forge relationships and build cooperation across the services and interagency. When you have a star or stars, access follows. That access is used judiciously and within limits just as in any human endeavor at stratospheric levels of authority. The air is a bit thin up there, and if you cannot adapt, you quickly suffocate. The measure of CAPSTONE success is how far a flag officer continues to breathe. Apparently Stanley McChrystal's flame wasn't snuffed early enough; this at least is his third strike. Why? And what does this say about how some military officers' careers are nurtured?

There is no reason to be either a screamer or to act out in passive aggressive fashion as a flag officer. First there is the power of the position. Next there are the relationships. Then there is also a backchannel method of communication that is available when flag officers want to make a point. When attention and emphasis are desired or when there is a point of contention, a message is sent "Personal For" (P-4) to formally establish the record. And if after you have expressed your position, you don't get the outcome desired, you salute smartly and carry on; or you retire. If you can't follow orders, time to be gone. Hold your tongue until then. Rolling Stone is not the usual transmission medium for P-4s.  

McChrystal Offers Obama a Teachable Moment

To now, the teacher-scholar relationship between the Department of Defense and the President has been reversed. Obama has been led by the hand, blindly. Military matters were never his strength. With no idea where to turn, he kept the Bush team on. The McChrystal tempest should have been expected.

Hours after his inauguration, the Department of Defense (DoD) asked for and obtained authority to conduct a strike that blooded the new President. From that point forward, Obama has acquiesced to every important decision, carrying the failed Bush military policies forward not only in Southwest Asia, but around the world. Maybe that initial uncomfortable decision conditioned him and affects his approach to the DoD. Now is a time for him act Presidential. While the comments by McChrystal reported in a Washington Post article today and the subject of a Rolling Stone profile in this week's edition are far from seditious, it is symptomatic of a potentially pre-cancerous condition that merits preventive intervention.

Half a century ago the new President was handed the portfolio for the Bay of Pigs, a Richard Nixon nurtured plan of action. John Kennedy had military experience, but it did not prepare him for the kind of inertia found even then in bureaucracies. Fortunately for Kennedy, the then Commandant of the Marine Corps, General David Shoup, intervened with a dramatic illustrative objection and provided a perspective that altered history.

Times have changed and Obama faces a tempo of activity that did not challenge Kennedy. There are the two wars. There is the economy. There is the Gulf of Mexico. And the quality of advice that he is receiving from a former Commandant fails in comparison to the counsel of Shoup. While it may be appropriate to can McChrystal, it is more important to fire the National Security Advisor, General James Jones. It is Jones who has failed most miserably. It is Jones who figured in the alienation of General Tony Zinni and helped position the bullying sycophant Richard Holbrooke as senior envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Zinni might have turned out as Obama's Shoup. Now Obama has no one up to the task of taking on DoD or, for that matter, the State Department. Time for Obama to step to the podium but he is without a practical frame of reference or anyone to trust to provide it.

Update -- The article is available online and it is a nightmare.