As I type this, the president is sitting down with General McChrystal to discuss the general's recent comments as revealed in a Rolling Stone article. There has been a lot of pundit talk about what should happen. Amazingly, most of Congress has kept quiet on this, awaiting today's meeting.
One point that is lost in all of the noise and dust is somewhat buried in the article. That is the frustration of the front line troops with the existing rules of engagement. More on that below.
By now, everyone is aware of the general's comments and those of his staff. They were uncomplimentary to the president and his staff, otherwise known as the Civilian Command. Now, like Obama or not, he is the Commander in Chief. We only have one at a time, and he is it. This is not an optional acceptance for the military. Their oath is to the Constitution.
Reports are that McChrystal will offer his resignation. Obama should accept it and demand the resignation of his staff as well. As Commander in Chief he has little choice. This is not a new situation for a president. Ask Patton or MacArthur. Outstanding commanders who both violated the rules.
McChrystal's comments - which he does not deny - are a direct violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Here are the sections he and his staff violated:
88 of the UCMJ - CONTEMPT TOWARD OFFICIALS:
"Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct. "
Article 133 - CONDUCT UNBECOMING AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN:
"Any commissioned officer, cadet, or midshipman who is convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman shall be punished as a court-martial may direct."
134 - GENERAL ARTICLE:
"All disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces, all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces, and crimes and offenses not capital, of which persons subject to this chapter may be guilty, shall be taken cognizance of by a general, special or summary court-martial, according to the nature and degree of the offense, and shall be punished at the discretion of that court."
These are not flexible rules like traffic laws. They exist for a purpose. And the US Military is well aware of that. McChrystal not only proffered these comments, but allowed an environment among his staff to exist that emboldened them to violate these rules. The general knows this. This is not about politics or points. This is about the military and the chain of command.
Buried in the Rolling Stone article is the real problem in Afghanistan. The real reason we have been there for this long. The real reason we cannot progress beyond a point. They complain about having to fight with one arm behind their backs. They are right.
The front line troops are frustrated by the existing rules of engagement and that I blame on both the prior and current administrations and the Congress for falling for the "civilian casualty/collateral damage" lie that the UN and their buddies have cooked up. Only the US and Israel get slapped for that and for the last 8 years, the military has been constrained by it. Obviously it is wrong to just shoot up a village, but it is not wrong to bomb an enemy stronghold. Especially when we know this enemy uses civilians, schools and churches as shields.
We know that this enemy has no qualms about killing hundreds of innocent civilians just because they can. We know that they hide in and among the civilian population. Our troops know this, yet they are asked to not fight this enemy to win. They are asked to worry about PR value.
Well, war is ugly. Nasty, sad, messy and ugly. It is supposed to be that way. We seem to have fallen prey to the world view that war is some kind of surgical procedure. We have allowed the UN and the rest to tell us how best to conduct ourselves. The same UN that refuses to denounce terrorists. The same UN that condemns Israel for defending itself and never condemns the killing of Israeli civilians by Palestinian terrorists.
We should stop listening to these sideline barking cowards. They are not in this fight. It was not their cities that came under attack and it was not their civilians that perished by the thousands. If we are going to fight this war, then fight it to win.
When McChrystal offers his resignation, Obama should accept it. Reluctantly and with sadness, but he should accept it. Military discipline and tradition demand no less. Then Obama should change the rules and allow our troops to fight to win.
This is indeed Obama's command moment. I hope he does the right thing for the military and our troops and not the popular or easy thing.