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What Would Lincoln Do?

About McChrystal?  Someone who wrote a great book about leaders and generals, Eliot Cohen, says he has to be fired.  Doris Kearns Goodwin implies that you can't win a war without the right person in charge.  Prudence over principle (as is always the case).  "Anybody will do for you," Lincoln said, "but not for me. I must have somebody."
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Discussions - 10 Comments

I think Lincoln would ask, "Does he fight?" Take Grant as an example. It didn't matter to Lincoln that Grant took to the bottle a bit too much. Grant could fight. Can McChrystal fight? If so, keep him. If not, he should have been gone all ready.

That said, I think I'd take Elliot Cohen's advice WAYYY before Doris Goodwin's.

I suggested to Mac Owens last night that if I were president I would fire McChrystal and re-appoint Petraeus. I think it was the right decision, made the right way. Good for Obama (and the policy).

Well Jon S, the standard "can he fight" is the Lincoln and Doris Goodwin standard. So in a way you are taking Doris Goodwin's advice over Elliot Cohen's.

Personally I dislike Elliot Cohen's logic, I don't see any problem with military officials voicing displeasure. After all if the proffessionals do not voice these things then it is left to the control and spin of the media/intelligencia. The whole military deference to civilian authority is thus an overbought concept. It needs to be shorted.

"For the rest of us, there is a lesson about re-establishing fundamental norms of civilian-military relations. For years both political parties have used generals as props. Democrats cheered when disgruntled generals snarled at Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Republicans, to their equal discredit, played up military disquiet with President Bill Clinton and may do so again in this case."

While his logical consistency is admirable, there is no such lesson. The logical consistency can be played on the flip side. Democrats actually had an arguement when disgruntled generals "snarled" at Rumsfeld. The idea that political parties use generals as props is misguided, certainly the generals are used, but certainly the such complaints are the only ones with credible authority.

Why should Eliot Cohen be seen as an expert, such that generals should shut up and the public should take as given his take on Obama's failures.

It isn't as if Generals no longer speak up, that pundits will also stop criticising official policy, the problem is that such pundits are likely to have interests that are more disinterested in a bad way(practical results) and interested (partisan, military, industrial military, jewish lobby).

The snarling of generals is thus more credible, than the snarling of a thousand pundits.

In addition Eliot Cohen commits a fallacy in argueing that "The poor judgment shown in political-military matters calls into question their broader competence to wage an acutely difficult war." When he also acknowledges that "He is also something of a military genius."

If he is something of a military genius then there is no correlation between his alledged poor judgement in political-military matters and his broader competence to wage an acutely difficult war.

Indeed if " vast open hall resembling the floor of a trading exchange—put long-haired civilian geeks next to wiry commandos, and together they uncovered, analyzed, pooled and acted on information that enabled soldiers to launch successful operations at a moment's notice."

Then it sounds like they opened things up and got down to business in part by rejecting these sorts of no-correlation assumptions.

Now you have some long haired tech geeks and a rolling stone article.
"The quotes from Gen. McChrystal's underlings bespeak a staff so clueless, swaggering and out of control that a wholesale purge looks to be indicated."

Well you could purge them just so Cohen can maintain the credibility he retains by virtue of the purity and logical consistency of his command philosophy.

Personally I could give a shit if they are smoking pot, or loosing military bearing, because the alternative is: "They did so in ways that only a few years ago would have required weeks of preparation and rehearsal. He is one of the fathers of victory in Iraq, because his organization dismantled the leadership of al Qaeda there."

Results are all that should matter, and if the aministration is making things more difficult then Officers should speak out.

What we need are results oriented military officials, there is no higher principle, but certainly the "civilian authority" thinks that military defference to civilian authority is a more fundamental issue. Why this should be convincing to anyone who is not a doctrinaire believer or is not himself a civilian authority is a question.

If such an article was read by a broader audience it is clear that it would be Cohen and his ilk that would be thrown under the bus.

There is just no reason why the fundamental norms of civilian-military relations need to be "re-established" or if such a need is present why it is a priority.

If there is a need to re-establish it, it would best be served by competence on the part of the civilian authorities, and it seems likely that once the underlying disease is cured the fever will break.

I think Rich Lowry says it as well as it can be said.

I like, too, that Lowry makes note of General Petraeus' selfless patriotism in accepting this command. I am hopeful that it will be rewarded with victory.

Striking delta between NRO's reaction and Hugh Hewitt's.

All that said ... I have no respect for Obama, but I have respect for the sovereignty of the role of the President as Commander in Chief.

It doesn't really matter why Obama did it. The simple fact is he's the duly elected Commander in Chief and therefore has the authority.

I may not like the decision, but that does not matter.

Case closed.

(My captcha words -- roadster tribal)

John Lewis,

I agree that I am taking Goodwin's position over Cohen's, thus the phrase "That said..." There is a balance to be had between winning the war and maintaining the chain of command. The fact is that civilians set policy, not generals. A civilian run military is an important cornerstone of a free people. That is Cohen's point. Whether it must be applied in this particular instance (the president apparently thought it did) is a political question. In Cohen's book, he stresses that war is a political action thus should be run by the political leadership. It isn't simply winning that is at stake, but winning the right way. To take my example of Grant, one can imagine that at a certain point Grant's drinking could be so much of an issue (say it led him to consistently do or say very rash things) that it would not matter how many battles he won, he would be hurting the cause. A president (and Sec's of Defense) can take some insults from generals, but at some point authority must be maintained. Again, I don't know if this particular instance required McChrystal's dismissal (I happen to think in and of themselves they do not, but it's a close call), but there is a principle that the military cannot be seen to be undermining the civilian leadership.

Obama had every right to oust this guy. McChrystal always pushed the civilian leadership. He saw it more as a nuisance than anything else. He would be better of general-ing in a country like Pakistan where his ego could be well-served.

The thing I don't like about this whole situation is that only two generals in the military -- McChrystal and Patraeus -- are able to conduct counterinsurgency operations. Is anyone else worried about this besides me? I'm sure that Patraeus is very happy about this switch, since he probably would rather be in the fight than sitting at a desk. But why won't the administration give some other guy a chance?

andrew, I don't think that follows. I hear from my Marine that the Corps has generals who could do the job. Other branches probably do, too. Asking Petraeus to step in is because of the political perceptions inherent in his taking on the job. He is who we all know, nationally and internationally. We can all be reassured because he is on the job. An "unknown" name wouldn't have the same salutary effect.

General Mattis, for example, co-wrote a book on counter-insurgency with Petraeus. He must know something about it. My inside informant tells me Mattis is very popular within the Corps, because a hero and a good man, but when I mentioned that he is politically incorrect as all get out -- well, yeah. He is capable of doing a good job at that post, but under Obama, (who is apparently just as uncomfortable with the military as McChrystal says) politics will win out and political correctness, or at least a perceptible neutrality on those socially sensitive topics like gays in the military, counts in appointments.

McChrystal was known as an Obama supporter, wasn't he? Yet when he proposed a number for the surge what he got was considerably less and while the effect of the surge is already being measured and found wanting it is not even completed, yet. The surge is still in process, although Biden, etc., make it sound like the whole thing is over. In effect, Obama appointed McChrystal and then cut him off at the knees by not supporting him. Remember the long wait while Obama decided if McCrystal was credible or not in what he asked for? That's awful. McCrystal is in an impossible situation because of the civilians his aides were trashing in that Rolling Stone article.

What if McCrystal just wanted to get out? If he simply resigned, he would be deserting his men. That is an unforgivable sin in the eyes of military men that I know. If he were forced out, that would be different. He put himself in a position to be forced out; knew there was a reporter from Rolling Stone present & previewed the article. He had to know how the endgame would play.

Maybe this will cause the president to reconsider how the Afghan War is being fought and maybe Petraeus has enough credibility at this point to be able to effect positive changes. Those would be good things. I have two sons headed for Afghanistan this year, one by fall. I badly want good to come of this.

This is an odd incident because the "to fire or not to fire" decision will quickly become an afterthought. Instead we will ask the question "Are the sneers and complaints made by McChrystal and his aides accurate?" If we answer "yes" then we have a policy dispute and changes will have to be made to our war strategy and tactics. Such substantive changes will overshadow the fact that the campaign is being run by a different general.

By substantive changes I'm referring here to the restrictive rules of engagement, the insipid pullout timeline, and even the number of forces deployed.

After a few days, General Petreus has been appointed and there is talk that there will be changes along the lines I have mentioned. It's been suggested that these changes were Petreus' price for accepting the Afghanistan position -- an actual demotion for him.

Let me try to start a conspiracy theory. McChrystal wasn't acting "dumbly" by allowing access to a Rolling Stone reporter. Rather, he was acting to undermine Obama's restrictive policies in the only underhanded way available to him. Who knows, maybe Petreus was in on the scheme to begin with. Well, it's a more plausible theory than any of the 9/11 Truthers put forward.

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