Thursday, June 24, 2010

Lesson 1: Think before you speak

If I didn't shoot my mouth off every now and again I'd have two or three stars on my shoulder by now. But it's hard sometimes. Anyone who's worn the uniform has felt at least the slightest frustration when you have to take an order from someone for whom the closest they've got to war was sitting in the front row while watching a screening of Black Hawk Down. But at the best of times we suck it up and say "yes sir" to the man in the suit who has been democratically elected by you, the voters to give us, the fighting men, our orders.

We do our venting by mouthing off to each other in closed circles, wishing for the glory-days of Reagan or whomever embodied the greatest leader we've had in our own opinion. It's secret. What we do not do is give an interview to one of the most popular magazines on the face of the earth, criticising current senior administration officials and mocking them for all the word to read. That is however, exactly what US Army General Stanley A. McChrystal, Commander, International Security Assistance Force and US Forces Afghanistan and his staff did for Rolling Stone this month.

Last year SECDEF Robert Gates asked for US Army General David D. McKiernan's resignation as Commander, ISAF and USFOR-A. Gates said new leadership was needed as the new administration of President Barack Obama launched a new strategy in the seven-year-old Afghanistan war. McKiernan was replaced by General McChrystal [right] who began his command in May '09, with an assessment of the war effort as his first task.

While it was unusual to have a wartime commander removed even during a change in administration [the tlast time it had been done was when President Truman replaced General MacArthur in Korea], McChrystal was described as "a driven visionary with the fortitude and intelligence to turn the war around" he had a wealth of experience in counter-insurgency as a Special Ops officer in difference to McKiernan who was a more traditional military commander and retired with full honours after being replaced.

For the most part, the substitution worked. Based on McChrystal’s original assessment, President Obama ordered an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Under his direction, US and ISAF operations in Afghanistan have achieved a greater degree of success and a number of high-profile surges like Operation: Moshtarak in February were successful in the end [despite some civilian casualties]. In March, McChrystal began to exercise a perceived over-arching authority over Special Operations forces, which I will say drew some fire from myself, but as I said; sometimes I shoot my own mouth off.

Despite McChrystal's military achievements, he has a history of making waves. Late in '09, as Obama was weighing how to adjust Afghanistan policy, McChrystal spoke bluntly and publicly about his desire for even more troops — earning a scolding from the president, who felt the general was trying to box him into a corner. But the Rolling Stone article was not something that could be answered by a scolding, it was time for McChrystal to do the honourable thing and avoid the indignity of being fired.

President Obama has selected the current Commander of US Central Command, Army General David H. Petraeus to replace General McChrystal. As McChrystal had been employing some of the tactics that Petraeus himself had hammered out at CENTCOM and what Petraeus developed while in command of US and coalition Forces in Iraq previous to that; it was seen as a logical choice that Petraeus himself step in to replace his disgraced colleague. It is technically a step down for the man known as "King David" who up until now had held the senior military position in direct administration of both the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and who made the news himself only last week.

General McChrystal himself said in a statement: “This morning the president accepted my resignation as commander of U.S. and NATO coalition forces in Afghanistan”. “I strongly support the president’s strategy in Afghanistan and am deeply committed to our coalition forces, our partner nations and the Afghan people. It was out of respect for this commitment and the desire to see the mission succeed that I tendered my resignation.”

The President himself said: “Over the last nine years with America fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has earned a reputation as one of our nation’s finest soldiers, but war is greater than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general or a president. As difficult as it is to lose General McChrystal, I believe it is the right decision for our national security.” In nominating General Petraeus, Obama reiterated that the change in leadership marks a change in personnel, not policy.

Posted as a reminder to think before you speak. Each of us is entitled to say what we think, just not in uniform.

Here is the Rolling Stone article online.

Source: Fox News, USDOD, Rolling Stone

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