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McChrystal's Assault on the Chain of Command and the Constitution - and the Need for Pushback

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It is becoming pretty clear that General Stanley McChrystal may be engaged in a calculated strategy to break the military's chain of command and publicly try to force the Obama administration to accede to his demands for a massive troop escalation in Afghanistan. McChrystal deviously leaked his report calling for an escalation to the media before handing it to his bosses, then publicly complained that he hadn't gotten enough face time with his commander in chief, then gave a speech to the international media -- in a foreign country, no less -- pressuring the White House to do exactly what he wants and rejecting the idea of a different strategy.

As I wrote in my most recent newspaper column, it as if McChrystal believes he was elected commander-in-chief in the 2008 election. That, or he simply has not read Articles I and II of the U.S. Constitution which clearly say the Congress and the President are the ultimate military decision makers.

McChrystal, of course, is betting that after a 30-year scorched earth campaign by the authoritarian right to insist that America's elected civilian leadership do nothing but rubber-stamp the military brass's demands, President Obama doesn't have the guts to pull a Harry Truman and fire his ass for rank insubordination like Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur. And, in the short term, McChrystal may be right.

However, there is some good news.

First and foremost, Obama is (at least up until this point) refusing to be bullied on the policy. McChrystal may be out there insulting the Constitution and the chain of command by trying to embarrass his commander in chief, but Obama hasn't budged from his insistence that he is exploring all options in Afghanistan -- and will not simply rubber stamp McChrystal's report, at least not without vetting it.

Second, the Congress is starting to assert its Constitutional prerogatives. As the Hill newspaper reports:

Nearly two dozen House liberals have signed onto a bill introduced this past week that would prohibit an increase of troops in Afghanistan. A bill introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) on Thursday would bar funding to increase the troop level in Afghanistan beyond its current level.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Obama National Security adviser Jim Jones appeared on CNN this weekend and pushed back at McChrystal on constitutional and policy grounds. Here's an excerpt of the Washington Post's dispatch:

President Obama's National Security Adviser James L. Jones suggested Sunday that the public campaign being conducted by the U.S. commander in Afghanistan on behalf of his war strategy is complicating the internal White House review now underway, saying that "it is better for military advice to come up through the chain of command."...

"I think the end is much more complex than just about adding 'X' number of troops," Jones said on CNN. " But I don't foresee the return of the Taliban and I want to be very clear that Afghanistan is not in imminent danger of falling."

So while we're not at a point where the Obama administration feels comfortable enough to assert its constitutional authorities in a Truman-esque kind of way, we are at a point where the administration is at least acknowledging -- and pushing back against -- the undeniable fact that McChrystal is mounting a challenge to those authorities. And, in the most important part of the whole back and forth -- the debate about whether to defy the will of the American public and massively escalate the war -- Obama is at least, for now, not rushing into anything.

Stay tuned -- my guess is this will only get more heated and more high profile.

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