Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Generally Speaking

You don’t have to have served in the military to understand the concept of the chain of command. Anybody who works in any type of structured environment, be it the Pentagon or a Wal-Mart, knows that there is an organizational method with some people ranked higher than others and that the operation of the business depends on the people giving orders to people who carry them out.

And as in any human endeavor, there’s the inevitable friction between those higher up and those lower down because people are like that; there’s always someone who either knows how the place really works and can always offer an opinion on how they would do the job better if they were in charge and how the people in the head office are all a bunch of idiots who have no idea what’s really going on. (These people don’t have the sense, though, to figure out that the people in the head office must have been smart enough to get there in the first place; it’s not all cronyism.)

I’m pretty sure Gen. Stanley McChrystal understands the first concept; after all, you don’t rise to become a general in the United States Army by bucking the chain of command. As for the second one, he forgot an essential lesson in management skills: if you’re going to complain about how things run in your outfit and the people giving the orders, know who you’re talking to when you complain, don’t let it become public knowledge to people outside of the office, and for the love of a good dog, don’t do it on a road trip with a reporter from Rolling Stone.

Gen. McChrystral’s lack of judgment and awareness isn’t just an embarrassment for him, for the people around him who joined in the fun, or the people who were the targets of the snide commentary. It calls into question whether or not he and his staff have the maturity and foresight to do the tough job they’ve been ordered to do. It doesn’t really instill confidence in his leadership abilities if he allows this kind of adolescent locker-room towel-snapping commentary to be made public.

As is always the case in these situations, the pressure is on the president as to what to do about an insubordinate general. This isn’t the first time this has happened, and it won’t be the last. And as is always the case, there will be politics and the inevitable punditry-enhanced dilemma: fire the general and incur the wrath of the right wing and endangering the mission in Afghanistan. Well, it’s not like the president was ever going to win over the right wing on anything, and as for endangering the mission, the war is bigger than one general and there are plenty of others. Besides, if our entire war effort depended on the fate of one man, it was a flawed plan to begin with.

I hope that President Obama shows the maturity and vision that Gen. McChrystal and his staff lack; that their duties, be it winning the war in Afghanistan or defending the country, are far more important than the politics or trying to get good cover on “Morning Joe.”

As for Gen. McChrystal, perhaps the president should bust him to corporal until he learns the basic truth taught to every soldier: take your orders, salute, and carry them out.