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How to punish McChrystal?

mcchrystalandobama.jpg

It seems clear that President Obama does not want to fire Gen. Stanley McChrystal. That has been obvious in all of the administration's public comments on the issue. There's no political upside to firing McChrystal. The administration does not believe there's a mission upside to firing McChrystal. But there is a principle at stake here: Obama has a responsibility to assert his control over the military and keep those lines of authority and norms of behavior clear for his predecessors. McChrystal's comments clearly violated article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The fact that a rule seems a bit extreme doesn't mean it's not a rule. And it's extremity, of course, is the point: Uniformed officers are supposed to stay far, far away from belittling the commander in chief.

Complicating matters is the media firestorm over the Rolling Stone article. Obama can't deal with this quietly. Pundits are declaring that this is a test of strength for him, a decisive moment in his relationship with the military. As Joe Klein writes, "I wish this could be otherwise. But we have a major international embarrassment here. And a major political test for the President." So for domestic political reasons, Obama's reaction to this will have to be in proportion not only to McChrystal's slight, but to the reaction to McChrystal's slight.

And that seems to me to be where this gets complicated. Absent the furor, I'd guess that Obama would force McChrystal to grovel and twist but then he'd let this go: He's got other things on his plate and doesn't think the mission in Afghanistan will be improved by a controversial firing of the top commander. But there actually is a furor. So the question seems to be whether there's any humiliation short of termination that will make it seem like Obama dealt with this firmly enough. Stocks on the White House lawn? A public caning? McChrystal has to wear one of those Shepard Fairey "Hope" shirts everywhere he goes?

Update: McChrystal is gone.

Photo credit: Pete Souza-White House.

By Ezra Klein  |  June 23, 2010; 9:26 AM ET
 
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Comments

Obama has to fire him or he's as weak as the GOP says he is!

Posted by: obrier2 | June 23, 2010 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Punish him by sending to some far off, terrible, hot, dangerous desert.......how about Afghanistan?

Posted by: Holla26 | June 23, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Afghanistan is a lost cause for reasons I enumerated in today's wonkbook post.

Fire the General, and get out NOW Obama.

Posted by: Lomillialor | June 23, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

you can't do anything BUT fire him at this point. As they said on Chris Matthews yesterday a resignation is not enough.

Posted by: visionbrkr | June 23, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Firing him because of a media firestorm makes the President look a lot weaker than keeping him, thereby "failing to stand up to the military."

Either way he's going to get criticized. In only one of those circumstances will the criticism be completely ridiculous.

Posted by: antilles13 | June 23, 2010 10:57 AM | Report abuse

McChrystal should be fired because he agreed on a war strategy (surge then withdraw) that he evidently doesn't believe in. He agreed because if he had stood up for the true cost of "victory", we would have gone another way.
He then had contempt for those who he felt put him in that position. We can't be in a situation where the military agrees to whatever keeps the war going longer. We tried that before.

Posted by: windshouter | June 23, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I think you have it exactly right Ezra -- this is another situation where the Washington media's constant crisis attitude just makes everything harder. It was the same with healthcare and Deepwater Horizon, and it'll be the same with whatever priority Obama focuses on after this year's election. Nothing can be solved by rational conversation and problem solving -- you don't get credit for anything BUT meaningless (and often counterproductive) gestures.

The Rolling Stone article was pretty clearly written with an eye to trigger exactly this kind of unthinking media blowup. And now the papers and cable networks get a juicy chance to trot out a bunch of old themes: "Democrats vs. The Military" and "Obama's not tough enough." Fox gets a new Ollie North figure. The fact that it will seriously interfere with our strategy in Afghanistan is way, way down the list of media concerns.

Posted by: NS12345 | June 23, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

There could not be a clearer violation of Article 88 of the UCMJ than McChrystal's actions (including his handpicked 'team'). If the law isn't obeyed, then this is just another example (like torture isn't torture) of the US becoming a lawless nation.

Nothing makes the US more subject to bad international outcomes than the perception that the POTUS is weak. Keeping McChrystal makes Obama into a laughing stock internally and externally.

He MUST be fired.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | June 23, 2010 12:23 PM | Report abuse

McChrsytal is a failure. He's had at least two chances/strategies to try in Afghanistan and still, failure.

He's also part of the Pat Tillman coverup and implicated in nasty tactics in Iraq.

This is not the first time he has publicly derided Obama or Biden. He no doubt has done this to save face for his recent failures in Afghanistan.

Obama will be criticized no matter what he does, thus, he should just fire this guy and find someone he trusts and who is loyal and competent.

Posted by: Lomillialor | June 23, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

I heard an interesting argument from a guy on NPR this morning that a reason to fire him is because the rank and file military already feel like generals and other higher ups are allowed to get away with violations that a lower ranking soldier cannot. "Different spanks for different ranks" he called it, which may be the best name I've heard all year.

Posted by: MosBen | June 23, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Game over and good riddance.

Posted by: Patrick_M | June 23, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Ditto, patrick.

Patraeus is a much better choice anyway.

Posted by: Lomillialor | June 23, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

in my opinion, president obama has done just the right thing.

and there has been some very positive movement in israel also, thanks to president obama. if it werent for him, and if any of the other presidential choices had become president, i dont believe we would be seeing faint signs of progress and change, at all.
the good news that netanyahu has had to back down, after his insulting actions to obama and biden, is finally allowing non-military goods to pass through the blocade.
and ehud barak is speaking out against the razing of palestinian homes in jerusalem.
president obama is going to find the right people to work with.
inch by inch, things will work out for the better, under president obama.
i feel completely convinced of it.
:-)

Posted by: jkaren | June 23, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

in my opinion, president obama has done just the right thing.

and there has been some very positive movement in israel also, thanks to president obama. if it werent for him, and if any of the other presidential choices had become president, i dont believe we would be seeing faint signs of progress and change, at all.
the good news that netanyahu has had to back down, after his insulting actions to obama and biden, is finally allowing non-military goods to pass through the blocade.
and ehud barak is speaking out against the razing of palestinian homes in jerusalem.
president obama is going to find the right people to work with.
inch by inch, things will work out for the better, under president obama.
i feel completely convinced of it.
:-)

Posted by: jkaren | June 23, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

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