Today President Obama accepted the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan. He was absolutely correct to do so.
The remarks of General McChrystal, and particularly members of his staff, to a Rolling Stone reporter showed stunningly poor judgment and in some instances were scornful and wholly inappropriate. As President Obama noted in his remarks today, such insubordinate comments simply cannot be tolerated because they undermine the principle of civilian control that lies at the heart of America’s military-political command structure.
The President named General David Petraeus to replace General McChrystal as commander of the Afghan war effort, and it was immediately a popular choice. General Petraeus has enormous credibility, in Congress and in the country at large, due to his extraordinarily successful work in engineering the “surge” in Iraq.
It is wonderful to have such an excellent replacement at hand — but the President should have sacked General McChrystal even if General Petraeus were not available and willing to serve. Success in the Afghan war is important, but not nearly so crucial as maintaining the salutary concept of strict civilian control over the military. President Lincoln fired the grossly insubordinate General McClellan at a desperate time during the Civil War, when the very survival of the Union hung in the balance. President Lincoln made the right decision then, and President Obama made the right decision today.