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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Old generals never die; they drink too much Bud Light and retire

A volcano in Iceland created the conditions.  It let loose plumes of ash, and aircraft were grounded.  Gen. Stanley McChrystal had to get from Paris to Berlin, but nothing was flying.  So, he got on a bus with his staff and a reporter from Rolling Stone And cases of Bud Light Lime (which tastes like a Lifesaver.  He could have been fired for bad taste.).  They all drank and  talked and said things that the reporter wrote down, things that got McChrystal relieved of his command.

McChrystal has an impressive military resume.  He is highly educated and is an expert in special operations, as what the U.S. military is trying to do to settle down Afghanistan so that we can stop wasting money and young American asses.  And brains.  But most people who have served in the military and paid attention to the rules knew he was going to get fired.  He did  not defy orders from the commander-in-chief like Gen. MacArthur did.  (MacArthur could have been court-martialed.) He didn't f***k up in carrying out his mission.  He did not publicly disagree with the policies he was to carry out.  In fact, he helped  create and he endorsed them.  He let his mouth and those of his staff reveal mentalities that bring into grave doubt whether they have the minds and character to do the jobs they are assigned. 

He, no doubt, knew what was coming.  He most likely had his resignation written and in his pocket when he went into the Oval Office.  But to keep his job, he had better have a compelling explanation  for the things said about the President and the other people who were maligned and abused.  He apparently didn't.  So his resignation was accepted, and within a few hours, a new commander was announced.

Few of the things quoted about Obama and his administration were directly attributed to McChrystal.  It was staff members who said them, and by implication they expressed the attitude and thinking of the command staff.  Rolling Stone squeezed some bad shit out of the tooth paste tube and there is no way on heaven or earth to put it back.  And so, you get rid of the people who generated it.  What the quotations show is that people are being petty, mean, disrespectful, and low down.  That disqualifies them for the job with which they were entrusted.  They have shown mental and professional weaknesses of a nature that casts doubt on their level of performance and on their intellectual credibility.   McChrystal's resignation was accepted, but you can be sure that some military rectums in Kabul are going to feel some command boot toes as they fly out the door to their new assignments on the permanent latrine detail at Camp Armpit, S.C.

There are some of those knowledgeable and authoritative observers who say that McChrystal did not commit insubordination;  he merely exercised free speech.   McChrystal did not really say much himself, but he allowed his staff to say things--things that are in violation of the Universal Code of Military Justice.  That is the law which applies to the military, and it has quite a list of provisions for what is termed insubordinate conduct.  Article 88 addresses what was reported in Rolling Stone quite specifically

Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
And the guidelines for application specify how things said in private should be treated:

... expressions of opinion made in a purely private conversation should not ordinarily be charged. Giving broad circulation to a written publication containing contemptuous words of the kind made punishable by this article, or the utterance of contemptuous words of this kind in the presence of military subordinates, aggravates the offense. The truth or falsity of the statements is immaterial.
There are other of those authoritative and knowledgeable, keen minds who insist that McChrystal was merely trying to get President Obama's attention to meet his military needs.  Considering that McChrystal operates in concert--or should--with the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the embassy officials assigned to Afghanistan, it would seem that he has appropriate lines of communication established, but the general's staff chose to depart from the rules of military protocol.

McChrystal's boys reflected more the culture of the blogosophere than they do a military organization--any organization, for that matter--that has a real job to do.  The comments  were personal, mean, petty, intended to be slanderous, and reflected that degree of low-mentality and debased attitudes that renders their opinions worthless.  The comments were intended to do harm.  They were the expressions of people ruled by ill will. People of ill will cannot be trusted.  Or respected.

Obama defined the departure point.  He said differences of opinion and discussion are welcome.  Divisiveness is intolerable.  That is true in the military, where the firing of the person in charge can deal with the problem.  It is true in any organization, but sometimes not as easy to correct.

Sitting around making malicious talk about other people, particularly those in leadership, has become an American pastime.  There is a difference, however, between making legitimate observations about someone's performance and behavior and doing it merely to malign others and massage one's own ego.  I have worked in places where malicious gossip was not tolerated.  If one got caught making comments about the character, mentality, or competence of an individual, one had to be able to substantiate the comments or be fired.  I have also worked at places where the personal derogation was  the usual business. In the latter instances, the organizations were dysfunctional and the people were the kind that one took great pains to avoid.  As the political chatter and the blogosphere evidence, there are those who choose to lead lives of ill will and dishonesty, however petty.  When they are put in positions of power and leadership, the country and world become the kind of places where people of good will and  good purpose do not want to--and cannot--live.

The firing of Gen. McChrystal was not a retaliation for the exercise of legitimate criticism or protest.  It was a necessary move to restore some sense of order and direction in a war that lost its objective and purpose in Iraq.  What caused the lapse in McChrystal's conduct as a general is not clear.  Generals do develop humongous egos, and egos tend to nullify any intelligence in those who allow them to grow out of control. 

When free speech becomes a license for imbecilic rancor, it becomes a cancer and a danger to all free speech.  And when people show mentalities of such peevish small-mindedness and debased malice, they need to be identified and removed from any positions of responsibility. We can only hope that the firnig has just begun. 

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