I have had some time to digest all of the spin on General Stanley McChrystal’s lapse in judgment. I am reading now that conservatives are lamenting that he was a political liberal and that he banned Fox news from his headquarters. That he might be a political liberal should not surprise anyone. Politically liberal Commanders in Chief are prone to appoint Generals who share their political views. This is not about political leanings. It is about leadership. It is about leadership failure and on more than one level.
Soldiers like to complain about things. Usually their complaining is limited to their own circle of influence. Privates complain to other Privates. We used to kid that if Soldiers were not complaining, they were not happy. Within General McChrystal’s circle of staff, some grumbling about issues would be expected. Anything else would mean a leader who was surrounded by non-thinking yes sir men, which is certainly more dangerous than grumbling about methods. It is when the grumbling makes its way outside the circle and especially when it makes its way outside the organizational family that it is serious. It is a leadership failure and a symptom of bigger problems.
If General McChrystal had a subordinate commander or members of the commander’s staff publicly criticizing his leadership or the prosecution of the mission he would have pounded that commander into the dirt. His duty would require that he do it because such conduct destroys unit cohesion. Without a cohesive effort, missions fail. When he and his staff became publicly critical of the Commander in Chief, it was to the same affect. The General knows this. He is after all a General and would have known that his actions would lead to his becoming a dirt dart.
Why did he do it? The answer to that question is at the root of everything. There has been much conjecture, but only the General and maybe his closest staff can provide the answer. You will not hear those answers, however, until the retirements are final and the first pension installments are deposited into the bank. There is certainly evidence of a low level of confidence in the President and his staff and a high level of frustration with the mission.
There has been concern expressed about the Rules of Engagement (ROE) with the enemy for the Soldiers deployed in Afghanistan. In a nutshell, they dramatically increase the danger to our Soldiers while having the opposite effect on their battlefield enemy. I was always curious about whether they were actually General McChrystal’s ROE. Talk is they were and I have no evidence contrary to that, but I am a cynic and leaders do not generally endanger their Soldiers with unnecessary rules. There is precedence for politicians becoming overly involved in such matters. Vietnam.
There is a problem with operations to win hearts and minds. There is no question about the importance of gaining the support of the indigenous population in defeating an enemy. You can find accounts of us fighting hearts and minds battles in Vietnam. We would go into villages to help them by day and the Viet Cong would come back and kill the village leaders by night for accepting that help. It led to the expression of the time that said it is only when you have them by the balls that their hearts and minds will follow. That was the Viet Cong approach. Until we are prepared to seek out the enemy wherever he is and destroy his will to continue the fight, we will not win any hearts and minds. Instead, prepare for the video feeds of helicopters evacuating the embassy.
According to the media, firing General McChrystal was the President’s Truman moment. They likened it to Truman firing MacArthur during the Korean War. There is no comparison. MacArthur publicly opposed President Truman’s policies. The same media and politicians, who publicly savaged General Petraeus as “Bush’s General”, are now insisting that the President’s putting him in charge of the Afghanistan war is a stroke of leadership genius – brilliant. I am grateful that I do not have to live inside of any of those duplicitous minds.
If General Petraeus does not get what he needs and if he is bound by politics rather than the principles of war and if he has the same indecisive and dysfunctional leadership he too will fail. Most sadly, the United States of America will fail.