The sacking of Gen. Stanley McChrystal by President Obama as commander of international forces in Afghanistan was not the only choice the CINC could make. But even if one disagrees with the outcome it was clearly a right choice.
McChrystal, and his entourage to a greater degree, shot off their mouths to an irreverent writer for a Rolling Stone piece. That article said some unflattering things about Obama and his entourage. The rest is, of course, history now as Obama accepted the general’s resignation — the age-old way of dismissing a top general — and has appointed Iraq surge architect and current Central Command leader Gen. David Petraeus.
The manner in which Obama relieved the general and the way in which McChrystal handled his firing was honorable, which was to be expected in proper military-civil decorum. I would guess that some on the right, some on the left and even some in the middle may have objected to the outcome. For those people, I would ask that they bear in mind that our military is constitutionally led by civilians. For top military leaders and their staff to make disparaging statements in public about their chain of command is not only wrong-headed in the sense that it does not contribute to the well-oiled military machine, it is also illegal.
Any buck private or seaman recruit should remember the so-call “punitive articles” of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Those are the military laws for which one can be punished by actions ranging from non-judicial punishment to court martial. Recruits are taught that when a military member disses a government official, those offenses are seen as especially heinous in the eyes of a military that prides itself on being different from military juntas found in banana republics.
Technically, Gen. McChrystal could have or still could be charged with Article 88 of the UCMJ, which prohibits commissioned officers from talking smack about government officials. It doesn’t come with a very heavy sentence and I don’t know if any officer has been convicted of it in years. In the case of senior officers such as McChrystal, he pretty much received the max being forced to fall on his sword, although it is yet to see what happens to his career or if he will retire.
Enlisted and non-commissioned officers have a similar offense although it is one that might be difficult to sustain in court these days as it falls under the so-called “catch-all” Article 134, a.k.a. the General Article, to wit, as the “Manual for Courts Martial” says quite frequently:
“Though not specifically mentioned in this chapter, 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.”
Keep in mind this article takes in the kitchen sink from “Abusing Public Animals” to wearing an unauthorized badge or medal.
I read the offending article in Rolling Stone and found it to be mostly flattering for McChrystal. He is a rare “snake-eater” Special Operations type who rose to the highest ranks. He is well-liked by troops and is known for “leading from the front.” I did not find many of the comments very offensive at all. But I can see how they were perceived as being over the top because they were directed at Obama and his people. The most damning comment I saw was in a subtitle and I am not sure that came directly from McChrystal.
One also must remember that some of history’s best generals have been everything from reckless to insubordinate to downright insane.
However, our Constitution takes precedence over one individual no matter how good a fellow he or she may be. I hope Petraeus does as well with Afghanistan as he appeared to do with Iraq. My only question is, will he also be handling duties as CENTCOM commander simultaneously with his Afghan leadership role? If so, that could be a problem.