President Obama must fire General Stanley McChrystal and get out of Afghanistan... for starters.
There is much more at stake here than meets the eye. History is full of generals with deep contempt for democracy.
General McChrystal has a very particular significance. Last year, as Obama weighed the Afghan situation, McChrystal circumvented him entirely. In an act of profound public contempt, the general went directly to the world media with a high-profile campaign that was entirely inappropriate to a civilian democracy.
He should have been fired right then and there.
But McChrystal used the brass on his chest to sell the nation a bill of goods--that the war in Afghanistan could be "won." It would be "difficult," of course, requiring "sacrifice."
But exactly what "victory" meant, and how that would make the United States safer, more just and prosperous, was never clear.
What was clear was who would die and who would pay.
But with the corporate media lapping up his every word, McChrystal upstaged the numerous political, strategic, financial and military experts who disagreed with him.
The plunge into the Graveyard of Great Powers was by no means a consensus decision among either the experts or the public.
McChrystal became to Afghanistan what William Westmoreland was to Vietnam--the go-to guy on the plunge to war. The results have been catastrophic.
Like Westmoreland, McChrystal has been proven dead wrong on just about everything. The war's only foreseeable "accomplishment" is to drain our treasury and weaken our nation. We hear snippets of "progress" here and insider reports of "victories" there, and lately a recycled old story about vast mineral wealth. But it's deja vu all over again, a ghastly Southwest Asian re-run of the debacle in Southeast Asia.
Stanley McChrystal has failed as a general, and as a citizen.
It would be easy to say his comments as they appear in Rolling Stone are an aberration, that he was caught off-guard expressing his contempt for the President, the Vice-President and the rest of us.
But in this day and age, that may be naive. We have a volunteer army and a President inclined to avoid definitive decisions. Our rights as civilians were not easily won. To preserve them, as Jefferson said, we must be "eternally vigilant."
The Roman republic disintegrated when generals began disobeying elected leaders and taking personal control of their armies.
In the midst of our own Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln fired his contemptuous, incompetent General George McClellan and eventually replaced him with Ulysses S. Grant, who won a war worth winning. McClellan ran against Lincoln for the presidency in 1864. He lost. Thankfully, he had no personal army to overturn the decision.
During the Korean War, General Douglass MacArthur contemptuously disobeyed President Harry Truman. Truman resolutely fired him. As he told TIME Magazine at the time:
"I fired him [MacArthur] because he wouldn't respect the authority of the President... I didn't fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that's not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail."
It took another General, Dwight Eisenhower, to bring finally the troops home. But come they did.
Barack Obama cannot let Stanley McChrystal return to Afghanistan. He needs to fire him immediately, and replace him with someone who will end that war.
The stakes we can see are huge. The ones we can't may be even greater.