President Obama took the correct action today. General McChrystal had left him no choice, with remarks that undermined not only the basic mission in Afghanistan, but also undermined military discipline, the entire chain of military command, and our Constitutional system of civilian control.
If the General had stayed on, it would have weakened troop morale. Such an undermining set of statements is close to mutiny. Had he stayed on, it would have only fed the President's political enemies. Instead, the President today gave us a sign of responsibility by quickly addressing this controversial issue.
There are longer-term issues as well. There is a very high risk to our Constitutional system of government and to command discipline when our high-ranking Generals become talking heads on TV, comment on current issues like pundits, give live interviews during war, and become public advocates for a point of view. Too many of our top generals are building political constituencies for their own careers, later books, and eventual corporate board memberships. There is just too much of that these days. The military spends too much time on 'spinning' and not enough time on 'winning' the two wars we are now engaged in, one of them the longest war in American history.
One haunting question remains, which should be investigated by Congress. How deep and widespread is the infection of insubordination demonstrated by General McChrystal? Does it extend to the rest of the high command? Are top commanders really clear that our Constitution means that President Obama is in charge? The decision today reaffirms that President Obama is in charge of our military command structure, as our Constitution demands.