Too Much Truth Cost A General His Job

We took a tremendous national risk when we elected as president a man with virtually no experience in foreign affairs. But we wanted change. So we elected Barack Obama and made him commander in chief of the armed forces. Little did we know we'd bargained for a man with the sensibilities of a momma's boy.

Obama was all gravitas and suppressed rage when he fired General Stanley A. McChrystal after a brief meeting at the White House. McChrystal was the United States' top gun military commander in our engagement in Afghanistan. The general and his cronies had the misfortune of lowering their guard and ranting some over drinks one night. They did so in the presence of an embedded journalist for Rolling Stone, who dutifully reported what military brass sounds like when knocking back a few cold ones.

I hesitated about what to call our presence in Afghanistan. The politically correct term is war, as in we are at war against terrorism. But other words spring to mind, words like occupation. We barged into Afghanistan almost a decade ago looking to clean house, dislodging the Taliban from power and looking to ... well, what, exactly?

My sons did not die in Afghanistan. Neither did they serve in the military, although they were of an age when they could have. But when we'd talk around the family table about the world, we never could make sense of American objectives in the land that so famously fought off the Russians. Afghanistan is stocked with a proud and ferocious people. I simply cannot imagine they are pining away to become the 51st state or desire Walmart franchises.

We couldn't imagine what it would be like to awaken to see foreign troops patrolling our streets, speaking a different language, engaging in religious practices at odds with ours. We've watched classmates of my sons become soldiers. We've wondered whether eyes glassy with hope will return dull with horror, or even return at all. And we've read that suicide rampages through the ranks of soldiers pressed hard against the unforgiving mountain ranges and even less forgiving people of a land foreign not just in terms of geography but also in terms of spirit.

General McChrystal and his command staff are valiantly living this nightmare. They are following orders, doing their best to meet a rising tide of insurgency, trying to win the hearts and minds of a people who shown no real signs of wanting to be seduced. The general and his men and woman are warriors. They are doing their duty and facing death, one day and one soldier at a time.

It is no great crime to wonder whether this nation and its top civilian leadership has any idea what it is doing in Afghanistan, or, for that matter, Iraq. President Obama has no coherent strategy beyond indefinite occupation. His soldiers may well be men of duty and honor, but they are not machines. Only a fool can behold the mess in Afghanistan without doubts and sorrow. Does Obama want fools as commanders?

We permit journalists to become embedded with our troops. We give them access to the front lines and then want reports that are honest. But apparently, we do not want too much honesty. We want pictures of reality scrubbed clean of inconvenient truths. A journalist sat with the general and others and listened to soldiers gripe about navigating in hostile waters with no real map. We are adrift. I suspected as much.

President Obama's decision to fire McChrystal had the elegance of a firing squad. Too much truth cost the man his job. The president wants to portray a united military leadership. Dissent is not tolerated. But united behind what, Mr. President?

Strutting around the White House playing angry peacock isn't persuasive. By signaling to the nation's men and women at arms that private candor is a crime, the president signals far more than he intends. Bury your doubts, he tells all. Follow without questioning. Trust. Obey.

And if the doubts become too much, well, you can always just kill yourself, as so many of your colleagues have done. But tell us, Mr. President, why must a foreign policy without vision result in a suicide pact for either offices or the nation? Firing the general was a rookie's mistake that will cost of us much in the eyes of the world.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.

Comments: (9)

  • I have such a difficult time pinning you down. No...
    I have such a difficult time pinning you down. Now you like truth, even though it's within the military paradigm disparaging the commander in chief? Isn't it kinda hard to fight battles, whether or not you're in favor of the battles, when the command is publicly ridiculing its superior? I bet Obama's feelings were hurt. Doesn't that matter to you at all?
    Yet truth that might hurt the feelings of a lawyer who engages in or urges unethical, incompetent or just plain stupid conduct is brutish and wrong. So it's only some truth you favor? Or is it only your truth that's acceptable.
    Just trying to keep up with this ever-changing line in the sand you've drawn.
    Posted on June 24, 2010 at 1:18 am by shg
  • SHG
    Don't bother. It is not worth the effort. Let...
    Don't bother. It is not worth the effort. Let me go. As a famous blogger once noted, I could it explain it to you, but I can't understand it for you.
    Posted on June 24, 2010 at 1:20 am by Norm Pattis
  • I love that quote, and it applies so well in so ma...
    I love that quote, and it applies so well in so many situations.
    Posted on June 24, 2010 at 1:58 am by shg
  • As a veteran and a mature (?) adult, I believe the...
    As a veteran and a mature (?) adult, I believe the 'sacking' of Gen. Stanley McCrystal was a serious mistake and displays a leadership flaw in our great new Leader. While McCrystal's off-the-cuff, after-hour remarks may have been 'ill-advised', they clearly do not 'rise to the level...'
    The only offense which would rise to the level would be incontrovertible insubordination, as in the case of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Of this, McCrystal is not guilty. It is reported there are no policy divisions between him and the prez. The problem, as I see it, is we've been electing too many lawyers to the highest office in the land. Not just lawyers, along with their minions, acolytes and sycophants, but lawyers who never served their country, either in the military or the Peace Corps. (Bush #43's service is questionable; it looks more as if he tried to avoid service.)
    I note in passing, the last three, baby-boomer presidents were all products of our most elite schools, and momma's boys. Two of them are good with words, while one of them was good with turds. It's been a long time since we had military man in the presidency, and a long time since we had a common man, an average Amerikan in the highest office. You know who I'm talkin about.
    The Afghan war gives every indication of spiraling out of control. Mr. Obama must be frustrated, and he took this unfortunate peccadillo to demonstrate his frustration in a most unfortunate, juvenile way. Call the general back into service, Mr. President. Show us your true mettle!
    Posted on June 24, 2010 at 2:29 am by William Doriss
  • Pattis says he hesitates about what to call the Am...
    Pattis says he hesitates about what to call the American military presence in Afghanistan. For some time now, I have been using the term militarism. It's clearly not a war since there are no battle lines, no objectives, no strategy (a range of desired conditions is not a strategy), and no teminus such as victory. Military occupation would probably be another apropos term. But the U.S. military keeps shuffling around to give an appearance of motion--and thus implied progress or at least serial experimentation--in the attempt at disguising what is obviously basically a military occupation. In any event, militarism is a compromise term of mine in order not to start an argument with politicos and hawks who want to deny the U.S. military presence in AfPak is basically an occupation.
    FYI: At a recent Huffington Post comment, I described the to-do between McChrystal and his people and Obama and his people as like a family squabble over an inhertitance--in this case the awful inheritance left by the Bush administration. McChrystal is frustrated over the wiliness of the Taliban, and directing this at Obama.
    Posted on June 24, 2010 at 2:31 am by Henry Berry
  • Violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice cos...
    Violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice cost a general his job. If he was Private McChrystal and not General McChrystal, he'd have been prosecuted and probably thrown in Levenworth for a few months before receiving a dishonorable discharge.
    Posted on June 24, 2010 at 2:40 am by Anonymous
  • Maybe someone should ask some Afghans what they th...
    Maybe someone should ask some Afghans what they think? Just about every Afghan that I know thinks Obama did the right thing in firing him, for a whole host of reasons. The war is at a standstill, we couldn't even hold Marja, which is a tiny village. How on earth are we doing to hold Kandahar? McChyrstal didn't need to give the Taliban any reason to think we were faltering in Afghanistan. They knew that. The comments among Afghans range from "is he high?" to "WTF McC?" But you know, what do Afghans know?
    Occupation? Yes, that's what some would like you to call it. Then we can get out and the ones who sit at the right hand of Allah can come back.
    Posted on June 24, 2010 at 4:31 am by mirriam
  • Anon: You'll have to explain how mocking people n...
    Anon: You'll have to explain how mocking people not in your chain-of-command violates UCMJ. As for your claim that he would have been thrown in Leavenworth had he been enlisted, I never saw that in my experience. Non-judicial punishment at the most. Usually just an ass chewing. Also, I haven't heard anything about the general (or anyone else) going after any of the enlisted men who spoke badly of him to the same reporter.
    Posted on June 24, 2010 at 4:12 pm by KC Law
  • "Follow without questioning. Trust. Obey."
    I mean...
    "Follow without questioning. Trust. Obey."
    I mean, I understand these are terrible things to criminal defense lawyers, but, um...that's how the military is supposed to work. In fact, I bet Obama'd even forego the trust part, but yes, the General on down must follow without questioning and obey the Commander in Chief.
    Posted on June 24, 2010 at 4:45 pm by Lee Stonum

Add a Comment

Display with comment:
Won't show with comment:
What color is the sun?
*Comment must be approved and then will show on page.
© Norm Pattis is represented by Elite Lawyer Management, managing agents for Exceptional American Lawyers
Media & Speaker booking [hidden email]